Lamest Put-Down Ever

Barbara Shecter and her editor at the Financial Post ought to be ashamed of themselves.  Check out this lovely little stink-bomb chucked at the Toronto Star.

The Toronto Star’s new advertising campaign contains the provocative command: Ask Why. But industry watchers are asking why the newspaper chose the same advertising slogan used by Enron Corp., the biggest corporate flameout in recent memory.

“If you’re going to put on another man’s shoes, you’ve got to make sure they didn’t step in any cow poop,” said Ian Mirlin, chief creative officer at MacLaren McCann in Toronto…

But whatever notoriety the slogan may have, it was not enough to dissuade executives at Torstar or their advertising agencies from using it this week as the centrepiece of the newspaper’s biggest campaign in nearly a decade.

Star publisher Michael Goldbloom announced the campaign on the front page of the paper this past Saturday. It involves a three-month blitz of advertising on television, radio, in cinemas and on transit billboards.

Very funny.  Might as well have made the headline “The Toronto Star has cooties and smells like poo!”  The association is obvious; Enron was one of the world’s leading energy and communication companies, just like the Toront… ah, nevermind.  And Enron’s commercials were plastered all over Canadian TV channels, inextricably linking the tagline “Ask Why” with the now-disgraced energy company.  Ha ha!  Stupid Star.

Lowe Roche, the Star’s advertising agency, first made the connection between Ask Why and Enron when it searched for possible copyright infringements on the slogan, said Christina Yu, vice-president and creative director at the agency.

Lowe Roche took the news to the Star, where executives concluded the creative campaign, already under way, should not be altered, said Ms. Yu.

“The biggest thing was Enron was no longer in business [and] the average consumer wouldn’t confuse the two brands,” she said.

“It was clearly no attempt to try to leverage the brand equity of Enron.”

Greg Loewen, vice-president of strategy and marketing at the Star, says Enron’s “pretty modest” television campaign was not broadcast in Canada and had nothing to do with the newspaper’s effort to rally readers to think about issues like poverty.

“We pretty much concluded it’s a non-issue to whether this campaign will be successful in this marketplace,” he said.

Back in reality, we find out the Enron commercials didn’t air up here, the Star knew about the possible association, and yet they went ahead anyway on the assumption that the majority of their Canadian audience (including yours truly) was basically ignorant of the Enron association. In fact I learned of it only by reading this odious garbage in the Financial Post.  Nice.  Yet the Post wants to make out like this was the biggest blunder since Dieppe in ’44.  As if that wasn’t enough, look at the closer.

The Star is Toronto’s biggest-circulation daily newspaper. In the most recent fiscal quarter, the Star had lower-than-expected advertising linage and revenue, which contributed to lower operating profit at parent Torstar Corp.’s newspaper division.

Anyone who is a regular reader knows that I have no love lost on the Toronto Star, but does any national paper deserve this sort of front-page slagging (FP1, no less) by some other rag’s dressed-up business section?  I look forward to Ms. Shecter’s next work of character assassination, where she will presumably advise HR managers across the nation not to hire anyone — no matter how skilled — unfortunate enough to be named “Kenneth Lay” or “Jeff Skilling”.

Disgraceful.

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3 Responses
  1. DirtCrashr says:

    Besides being a rather trivial and obvious catchphrase from a marketing standpoint that probably required a bunch of top-level suits to clear, I’ve never seen an Enron commercial either – I wonder who used it before Enron?

  2. Chris Taylor says:

    Good question. It’s so broad-based and generic it could be used for anything… encourage elementary school kids to pursue studies in the sciences, encourage atheists to ask challenging questions of believers (or believers to challenge their leaders), pretty much encourage anybody to think outside the box about anything.
    Doesn’t exactly scream Enron the way “Just do it” screams Nike.

  3. DirtCrashr says:

    Since they’re such genius-journalists to have uncovered this chilling and heart-stopping Enron Slogan.
    Perhaps they can also uncover and “Ask Why” Reuters a photographer can get those nifty shots of Beruit with an extra helping of smoke and missiles, and how an AP cameramen can get those exclusive “Inside the Burkha” photos of Jihadi terrorists shooting people in the head, out on the street. Maybe they don’t “ask why” when they get jealous over somebody else’s Pulitzer.