By Trent Rentsch
I’d like to mention three separate times in my career when the phrase, “Do you see what I mean?” was greeted with a blank stare. The first came from the owner’s wife at a company Christmas party some years ago. As I recall it was the last year that there was an open bar.
The second occurred at the same station, six months earlier that broadcast year. Let me confess that I have an issue with the marketing concept known as “Crazy Days.” I have plans for the genius that first concocted the idea of putting all the crap that wouldn’t sell INSIDE the store on card tables IN FRONT OF THE STORE, then bought time on the local station to scream about “CRRRRRRRAAAAAAZZZYYYYY MARKDOWNS!” He should be tied up in a clown suit and forced to listen to frantic calliope music on a plane ride to Turkey, where he would then be propped up in front of a bathhouse with a sign around his neck, promising “Wild & Crazy, HALF PRICE!” Good Lord, did he realize what he was unleashing on the world? Every guffaw, horn toot, boing-sproing-ka-twannnnggg, loose-lipped head shake, prat-fall splat and trouser trumpet sound effect that couldn’t find a home in any self-respecting commercial was suddenly getting abused to “punch up” copy, usually delivered in goofy impressions bad enough to send Walt Disney spinning in his cryo-chamber. And the days when we were only subjected to this hell on-air during the summer have unmercifully passed. Now there are Winter Crazy Days, Fall Crazy Days & SPPPPROOOING Crazy Days (I drove off the road when I heard that one). Never mind that it’s obnoxious, that it’s ancient advertising history, that when you look up cliché in the dictionary it says, “see Crazy Days.” It’s a plague that will infect any Mecca of Commerce at any time, and I have done my best over the years to make its advertising more than laugh tracks and armpit farts.
Enter Martha (name changed to protect the frustrating). While I have made jokes at the expense of salespeople in this column from time to time, in reality I’ve been lucky enough to work with mostly hard working, organized, intelligent sales reps with a great sense of humor. Martha was not one of them. Ever have to re-cut a series of spots because the Rep provided the wrong dates? That was Martha. Ever spend three hours in the studio with a painfully mic-shy client who really didn’t want to do his own ads, but was talked into it by his Rep? That was Martha. Ever HAVE to drop everything to cut a spot, dub it to a cassette, then have to play it over the phone in the studio because the Rep couldn’t figure out the cassette machine… THEN overhear the Rep tell the client, “I know you probably don’t want to buy some spots, but I thought if you heard what we could sort of do for you, only with a better announcer and the music turned down…” THAT was Martha. So I can’t imagine what I was thinking when I attacked the script for her last minute Crazy Days commercial.
At the time, Jon Lovitz was in the cast of Saturday Night Live. He sometimes did a character called Master Thespian, and I thought the concept might be a nice fresh twist to the old lemon. Enter: Two Bad Actors Interpret Stripmall’s Crazy Days. Cut it with the morning guy, in our over-acting glory, bad medieval music slightly warped under-scoring it. Finally, a twisted gag for Crazy Days that didn’t make me gag! At least, until Martha’s blank stare. “I can’t play that for the client!” I felt that vein in my forehead begin to throb. “Why NOT? It’s funny, Crazy Days is funny and it’s a funny way to advertise Crazy Days! Do you SEE WHAT I MEAN?” “No,” Martha answered as if talking to a child, “I don’t get it.”
You might suppose that Martha isn’t living anymore, and that might have been the case had she been completely wrong, but she wasn’t. As she told me she didn’t get it, I mentally raced through the script… what was there not to get? Okay, there were several vague puns at the expense of some of the Bard’s lesser-known plays and a line or two of theatre-speak, such as “Blocking out your moves to the savings.” Damn. The copy WAS bogged down by the schtick, and the fact that we went WAY over-the-top voicing it didn’t help. Martha wanted a Crazy Days spot, and I gave her a bad 60-second lesson in Theatre History. Another client, more time to write and produce it, the concept might play. In this case I sucked it up and reached for the sound effects disc with the bodily noises. I was going to need it.
I supplied the third blank stare I’d like to tell you about. I was on a client call to a farm implement dealer. Growing up in a rural state, you might think that I know SOMETHING about farm implements, but other than knowing the difference between a tractor and a cow by sight, I was not in my element. Merv was. Merv was proud that his dealership offered not just every make and model of farm equipment known to man, but also had spare parts for them all. He wanted to make sure that his commercial told the world that he had water pumps, not just for models 135 and 30B, but also for the 235 and 20 C “Masseys.” He also wanted to mention pulleys for the Case 500, clutch housings for a 3020, front nose frame plates for row crop utility JD 2010, and a superdexta injection pump for a 152 ci., 3 cylinder Perkins diesel. “Gotta get ‘em all in, do you see what I mean?” I didn’t. And while I knew that all of this meant something to people who use such things, the majority of our Classic Rock audience had less of an idea of what he was talking about than I did. But I also knew that he had just signed a large contract with our station. “Excuse me,” I said. “I know you also want your location and phone number several times in the ad. Could we perhaps just say that you have every make and model of farm equipment known to man, and the spare parts for them all?” Merv thought a minute. “That would do it,” he smiled. Mission accomplished. By the way, did I mention that he was Martha’s client? And that I begged the owner to reinstate the open bar at the Christmas party later that evening?