CBC’s new hipness hurts

The latest efforts from Razorfish try too hard to pull The National into the world of cool.

Marketing Magazine, August 27, 2001   

The CBC would like you to know that it is hip.


Or rather, it would like you to please notice its hipness transfusion, or its synthetic hip replacement or whatever it’s trying to promote with phase one of its Razorfish-directed branding/marketing exercise: a billboard over Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway featuring the half-sentence “...one of the world’s great newscasts.” Below that, The National logo and, to the right, anchor Peter Mansbridge looking eerily like a dyspeptic Orson Welles as the elderly Charles Foster Kane. What brand are New York’s Razorfish and Toronto’s Ammirati Puris trying to establish for The National, exactly?


Is a half-hour television “newscast of record” at 10 p.m. of any use or commercial purpose anymore? Why would any corporation bother to brand such a quaint antique? Didn’t the “futurists” assure us we’d have no use or time for anything so outmoded as a “nightly newscast” by now?


The designation of The National as “one of the world’s great newscasts” is attributed to Wallpaper magazine. The ultra-hep style-bible is called Wallpaper*, with an asterisk. Wallpaper, one could reasonably conclude, is something entirely different — a trade publication for paperhangers, possibly. That would be fine, too; it wouldn’t be the first time somebody noticed The National made good wallpaper. Despite the refusal of Razorfish/Am-I-really-Pocahontas/CBC to spell its name correctly, it is, in fact, Wallpaper* — the style bible — that named the CBC’s news one of the 100 coolest things on the planet in the year 2000 — the 59th coolest thing on the planet, to be precise.


Self-appointed groovaliciousness arbiters such as Wallpaper* have to be fickle, so that “world’s greatest” designation has a short shelf life. Where will The National place in this year’s rankings? It could become cooler, it could drop off the list, or it could be deemed totally lacking in even trace elements of coolness, or hotness, or whichever temperature it’s supposed to have. Then what? A follow-up billboard, saying, “Wallpaper* hates us now, but Lucky, the magazine about shopping, thinks we’re quite ginchy, and W finds us amusing in a sleepy sort of way”?


Consider, also, the source of that “...one of the world’s great newscasts” designation. It’s Wallpaper*, a shelter book for people so lacking in taste they need a magazine dreamed up by a guy from Winnipeg in a morphine stupor to tell them which furniture and lifestyle accoutrements to acquire — and, apparently, which television news to watch. Is an endorsement from a magazine dedicated entirely to superficiality what The National needs? It’s like a publishing company selling a new translation of Dante’s Inferno using an endorsement from Pamela Anderson.


If you’re aiming to — as Wallpaper* put it — “claim to be authoritative,” quoting a publication like Wallpaper* about your greatness obviates any authority you might have; it identifies you as confused, pathetic, uncertain and desperate.


And if I could stand to watch The National or had a reason to — say, if I’d failed to glance at page one of that morning’s Globe and Mail and needed to know what it contained at 10 p.m. that night — I’d want a newscast that acted like it thought it was setting the agenda. I would not want the TV news equivalent of finding my great uncle in balloon-leg rave-pants and a Slipknot T-shirt chanting “ice, ice, baby” in an attempt to seem “with it.”


“We don’t want to be seen to be old and stodgy,” says hip, now, a-go-go, “boss” boss, Mr. Down-with-the-program-and-the-kids-can-relate His Own Bad Self, Robert Rabinovitch, CBC Coolmaster General, by way of explaining why an endorsement from a lifestyle/furniture book is a desirable thing for a network’s flagship newscast. Good for you, Bob. That’s why you’re airing that far-out freak-fest Coronation Street, so as not to be perceived as old and stodgy, right? And The Magic School Bus, Arthur — now those are cutting-edge efforts, clearly aimed at the leaders of tomorrow. And the thousand-and-one hockey games that clog the schedule from September through July — also très “now.” Right on, Bob-a-loo, letting the CBC’s freak flag fly like that.


Why, if you guys were any cooler, we’d have to check for a pulse.