More advertising is taking on the trappings of public service campaigns as marketers seek to find the right approach to reach consumers after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Even ads that marketers pay to run are looking like the public service announcements that appear free. They are low key rather than hyperbolic, simple rather than elaborate, quiet rather than frenetic, and they all play down the pitching of products in favor of trying to communicate messages of hope and uplift.
More and more ads, particularly those created by agencies in New York some at no charge are asking Americans to live life normally again by traveling, shopping and dining out, especially in Lower Manhattan. There are also entreaties to seek the help of mental health counselors and to donate to the many funds started to benefit victims' families.
"The world has clearly changed since the events of Sept. 11," said John Hayes, executive vice president for global advertising and brand management at American Express in New York, "and in managing a brand we have had to focus on how our brand values will continue to be relevant in what we call the new reality." Mr. Hayes made his remarks at a luncheon on Tuesday sponsored by the Advertising Club of New York.
American Express suspended advertising for three to four weeks after the attacks, he added, and since then has revived previous campaigns that are deemed appropriate for the new environment. The company is also working with its primary agency, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide in New York, part of the WPP Group, to create ads that specifically address the aftermath of the attacks.
For instance, a television and print campaign with a distinctly sentimental tone encourages consumers to return to small businesses that have reopened in Lower Manhattan.
Stimulating sales for those businesses would also benefit American Express because many of those merchants accept American Express cards. The soft-sell approach these campaigns take is a way for marketers like American Express to turn aside concerns that they are exploiting the attacks.
"This is a very delicate and sensitive arena to be advertising in," said Ellis Verdi, president at DeVito/Verdi in New York, whose agency created a related campaign for one client, New York Metro. "In no way, shape or form do we want to be taking advantage of the Sept. 11 event as a backdrop for advertising fodder."
As the name indicates, New York Metro's Web site, www .newyorkmetro.com, offers computer users information about New York life and lifestyles. The DeVito/ Verdi campaign takes an elegiac tone in encouraging people to do what New Yorkers normally do.
The print ad has the simple look of a public service ad produced on a shoestring; it uses a black-and-white photograph of the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings at night. The headline is one typically found in a public service ad, too: "Volunteers needed."
Under that headline, though, are activities like "to grab a bite," "to catch a show," "to jog in the park" and "to laugh."
The last line is "to be New Yorkers again." In the television commercial, "America the Beautiful" plays in the background. New York Metro is a joint venture of New York magazine, owned by Primedia; and MetroChannels, part of Rainbow Media Holdings, a subsidiary of the Cablevision Systems Corporation and the NBC division of General Electric.
A television and radio campaign for the New York branch of the Samaritans, a worldwide volunteer network, is using a slow ballad, "Lean on Me" by Bill Withers, to help gain attention for services like a local suicide prevention hot line the organization operates. The campaign is the first major effort for the Samaritans by DeVito Fitterman Advertising in New York.
The ads feature Mr. Withers and begin, "If you're having trouble coping with recent events, there is somebody to lean on." Samaritan services like a new national information line are being financed primarily by Johnson & Johnson.
"I've always believed that the reward is in the giving," said Betty Fitterman, a partner at DeVito Fitterman. "All of us feel that we've made a contribution that really, really matters."
Another New York agency, Toolbox, was inspired to create a charitable campaign related to Sept. 11 because a firefighter with whom the agency had worked was among those killed when the World Trade Center towers collapsed.
The firefighter, Timothy Stackpole, was featured in a television commercial produced by Toolbox for the William Randolph Hearst Burn Center of New York-Presbyterian Hospital. The new campaign uses black-and-white film of Mr. Stackpole from the 1998 spot to encourage contributions to a charity called the Twin Towers Fund. Organizations like the Advertising Council and the American Association of Advertising Agencies will try to help the commercial gain nationwide exposure.
In the film excerpted for the Twin Towers Fund spot, Mr. Stackpole talked about why he had become a firefighter.
"The greatest high you can ever get in life is by helping somebody and making a difference in life, doing things 'cause it's the right thing to do," he said, "not because you're looking for something, like `How's it going to benefit me?' "
By ALLISON FASS, The New York Times October 18, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.