Ad Man Terry O'Reilly on Marketing Toronto, Illegal Advertising and Russell "Cashman" Oliver

I don't watch a lot of Citytv programming but when I do I inevitably get nailed with a Cashman commercial. You know, the one with the dancing girls, club beats and aging Russell "Cashman" Oliver wanting to trade cash for my used gold and jewellery. His ads have been running for years and actually have garnered him a fair amount of publicity including an interview on CBC last year when DC Comics sued him for one that had a Superman theme.

His ads keep appearing which means they must be successful enough for him to keep paying his bills. When Terry O'Reilly, famed ad man on CBC Radio's the Age of Persuasion spoke at Marketing Week in Toronto last week I fugured he'd be the perfect person to ask about them. Keep reading for our Q&A in which we discuss these ads plus other salient Toronto advertising related topics like marketing the city, ad creep and the influx of illegal advertising.

As a Toronto area resident, you may be familiar with some of the really awful (but perhaps effective?) Ads that run during off-peak hours on Citytv and some of the other news channels. One in particular stands out - Oliver Jewellery. These ads (see above and below) are so bad they're almost good, and based on the fact they keep running, I assume successful. Are you a fan?

I am not a fan of this kind of advertising. That kind of hard-sell retail, with no real idea, just loud, aggressive selling gives all of advertising a black eye. It isn't pleasing, and I don't think it respects the viewer. Yes, Oliver may find it is successful in the long run for him, but it is the lowest form of advertising.

What makes these bad ads?

I feel all ads should give something back. At the very least, an ad should reward the viewer/listener for sitting through an ad with a smile, or a laugh. These hard-sell ads don't do that. They don't respect the audience's intelligence. I truly believe that when people say all advertising is bad, these are the ads they have in mind. Plus, these ads are also aired with high frequency, so hammer the audience.

If you were brought in to run Oliver's advertising strategy what would you change?

I would sit down with him and try and figure out what kind of a brand he really wants to be. If it is, in fact, a loud, hard-sell guy, i would try and bring some wit to it. Right now, it is silly and almost juvenile in its execution. I also think you can be hardcore retail but still have intelligence at work.

Toronto Tourism and the City of Toronto in general are also much derided for what many residents feel is their inability to effectively market the city. If you were tasked with marketing Toronto, what would you do differently?

I can't really say, because I'm not privy to their strategy. Oliver Jewellery aside, i don't like commenting on how I'd change ad campaigns without having a lot of knowledge about the product. I will say this - tourism campaigns are very tough to do well. It's tough because you are caught between projecting the image tourists already have about you, or projecting a completely new one that may not appeal to them.

Canada, for instance, is widely thought to be mountains, snow, rivers and moose. Europeans love this imagery of Canada, but that is hardly all that Canada is. Plus, Montana could also claim that imagery. It's not unique to Canada, but Italians, for example, dream of coming to Canada to see the mountains and the moose. I also think there are too many masters to please in a tourism campaign, too much vested interest. One of my first demands would be to streamline the approval process, so that it isn't left in the hands of a committee.

How do you feel about the increasing incidents of illegal, guerrilla marketing tactics in the city. Since these incidents often generate publicity (albeit not necessarily favourable) do you think it's paying off for marketers? Or is it ultimately bad for their business?

I think guerrilla advertising is a creative way for smaller advertisers to get attention. I don't think it is tolerated from bigger advertisers. The great thing about guerrilla advertising is that it is usually not paid media - therefore it levels the playing field for smaller advertisers. Some of it is highly creative, and I admire it. That said, illegal advertising is not smart. It can come back and bite an advertiser, as it did Ikea.

Toronto has a very active community aiming to keep ad creep in check. In particular, works tirelessly to get the city to remove illegal billboards and now the city has introduced a sign and billboard tax by-law. Heroic work perhaps. But do you think more can be done to get marketers or industries to act more ethically or police themselves?

I think regulations and rules are very good things. Any industry needs to be regulated. There will always be companies that push the boundaries, or test the limits. Regulations make the industry behave responsibly.

You've just released a new book. What can you tell us about it? Can loyal listeners of your radio show on CBC expect to read some of the same or similar anecdotes?

Mike and I want people to judge advertising by the best, most creative advertising, not by the worst, bad ads. Most of your questions above focus on the worst of advertising, I want to celebrate the best of advertising. What if the music industry were only judged by the worst songs? Or the book industry by the most terrible books? There is some incredible advertising out there. Just look at the Advertising & Design Club of Canada Awards that were given out earlier this month - amazing work.

Canada ranks in the top five countries in the world when it comes to creative advertising. We have an incredibly high level of creativity here. That's what the radio show and the book celebrate: the stories behind the best campaigns ever done. We have over 600,000 listeners a week, so clearly, there is enormous curiosity when it comes to the 'behind the scenes' stories of Madison Avenue. Our biggest wish is that people start spending their money with the great advertisers, and stop buying from the worst advertisers.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Yes, there is too much advertising in the world. But remember that advertising does play an important role in a free-market economy. Almost everyone is connected to marketing. Most people work for companies that have to market their products. The marketing of those products keeps companies profitable and healthy, and consequently keeps lots of people employed. When Mike and i celebrate excellent advertising, it is advertising that is honest, smart and hopefully entertaining. That's the goal. And it is the kind of advertising most of the people I know in this business aspire to. We don't always hit the bullseye, but we try every time out.

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