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Scott McKay is a Toronto strategist, writer, creative director, patient manager, half-baked photographer and forcibly retired playwright.

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    "They had their cynical code worked out. The public are swine; advertising is the rattling of a stick inside a swill-bucket."

          – George Orwell






    "Advertising – a judicious mix of flattery and threats."

          – Northrop Frye






    "Chess is as an elaborate a waste of time as has ever been devised outside an advertising agency."

          – Raymond Chandler


    Entries in DRTV (5)


    ego to san francisco

    At the end of the weekend I'm heading to the 2010 DMA Conference, this year being held in San Francisco. It's the world's biggest hoedown of direct marketing geeks, clients, agency types and bitter creatives, capped on Tuesday evening by the ECHO Awards, the Oscars of response.

    I hope to find some nuggets in the deluge of conference sessions; given the global attendance, there's got to be people there with something interesting to say. There's so much confusion, fear, rethinking, innovation and experimentation in our business right now; it's an ever-embiggening crisatunity from which to learn. 

    However, on a more personal level, I'm focused on a few short hours of the whole thing, because the DRTV spot we did last fall is a finalist for a Gold award. And no, we didn't create it to win awards. You can't, not in a category where every dollar you raise actually has an impact on people who have virtually nothing. (Well, I suppose you could, but if that person is you I don't want to meet you.) We simply tried to be smart and innovative in an undifferentiated category, as a means of increasing our effectiveness. It's all about the clicks and calls, and we did pretty well at that.

    Yes, it's an honour just to be nominated; it's a thrill just to make the playoffs. And knowing that we've won at least a Bronze is similarly great, as it rewards the strong combination of strategy, creative and results we were able to put together for that spot. But a Gold would reflect the amazing dedication and commitment of a big group of people who made it happen.

    But, damn it, I have an ego and I also want to win for purely selfish reasons. And if that makes me history's greatest monster, so be it.


    "It's, um, what's his name, he bought, um, some product"

    It's easy for us direct response folk to get fooled by cool. Yes, we want results, but we also want to do amazing ground-breaking work. We want awards. We want to be funny. We want millions of views on Youtube. And we view work, even direct response work, through that lens.

    By that standard, the most effective and perhaps longest running TV spot in Canadian history doesn't measure up.

    Yes. "It's Patrick, he bought life insurance!"

    When it aired, it was pretty mainstream in terms of the clothes, the lighting, the announcer-y stuff, so it didn't feel like the museum piece it does to you now. But it sure as hell didn't break any ground culturally or artistically. (For some reason, I think it was adapted from Belgian creative.)

    It just made so much money for Norwich Union insurance that they kept running it, year after year; the variations and tests ran well into this millennium. It was mind-bogglingly successful.

    Why? I can only hypothesize a weird combination of things. It's built on classic direct response structure with straighforward technique; it's a tutorial in how to do a DRTV spot. But it's not the only spot in history that's been well-executed, so that can't explain everything.

    I think it's the small hiccups that actually stuck with people, and made it memorable: the quickness and bizarre excitement with which the first guy says the immortal words, "It's Patrick, he bought life insurance." (Has anyone ever had a personal conversation that started out with insurance?) The way the Asian Canadian testimonial woman jumps in and cuts off her husband as he talks. The way the announcer's "2" in the "20" he scrawls on the whiteboard seems so rushed and sad. Maybe it's just me, but details like that remind me of the Sham-Wow spot; very strong selling with just enough personality and weirdness to be memorable.

    The only thing I can compare to it is that Canadian Tire "creepy neighbour" campaign early this decade with the couple who explained products – mini-infomercials really. People seemed to hate those damn things, they got made fun of mercilessly by shows like This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Air Farce. Yet the flipside of that is that everyone knew them, everyone watched and knew the products. They look to CT for information, and went to CT when they wanted to buy. I have no data of course, but I've read CT folks saying that they worked insanely well.

    CT ended the campaign because they wanted to be cooler, oh, I'm sorry, more "relevant"; I'm sure the CEO got sick of his/her family and neighbours making fun of them. So we've seen a couple of campaigns since they ended the "creepy neighbour", and maybe a couple of different agencies. Yeah, cool worked really well, didn't it?

    I know the creative team who did the Norwich Union spots; amazing people all of whom I've worked with and for, and from whom I've learned virtually everything I know about direct marketing, direct mail, and DRTV. And yet none of them talks much about it, and I don't think any of them list it on their résumés, or have it in their books.

    Which is sad, but I understand why. Cool, not effectiveness, still seems to rule.


    I wouldn't have thought that necrophilia would increase response, but...

    Just saw a :120 DRTV spot for the "FixitPro", a product that hides scratches on cars.

    It was hosted by Billy Mays.

    Who has been dead for over a year.

    I don't know what worries me more.

    That the folks who run that agency don't seem to give a shit, and are too cheap to reshoot.

    Or that his death actually hasn't affected response rates negatively.

    I'm betting on the latter, since the above image is featured prominently on the site.



    "who's watching TV at 3:17 in the morning?"

    Brain fried on account of cold.

    In place of fresh content, enjoy an advertising-related Simpson's episode, featuring Homer's "Mr. Plow" DRTV spot.

    Bonus comedy for Crazy Vaclav's Place of Automobiles.

    "Put it in H!"


    Bob Loblaw's law blog

    Late night, but thought I'd share some genius.

    Now, I can't find actual video of Bob talking about his law blog, but there is this band that's taken his name. Sort of like It's Patrick, or the Norge Union, paying homage to the uber DRTV ad in the history of this country. Which is what this link is: Norwich Union Mania – not the original Norwich Union spot, but an incredible simulation.

    None of which makes sense. But as T.S. Eliot says, just kick back and enjoy.