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In Marketing, Much Wheat and More Chaff

For Madison Avenue, the September terrorist attacks provided a devastating blow - and also a chance to shine. A few advertising campaigns in recent months have more than risen to the occasion.

Still, much of the advertising this year was dull at best, with some campaigns bordering on the tasteless.

Here is a look at the few fresh moments and the more frequent follies for advertising, marketing and the media in 2001.

STARS OUT TONIGHT Despite widespread ridicule in tabloid newspapers of celebrities who suddenly and suspiciously found reasons to stay away from New York after Sept. 11, there were some stars who stepped up to the plate, literally and figuratively, volunteering for public service campaigns intended to bolster the city's faltering tourist trade.

The hands-down winner among these campaigns, and perhaps the best of any for the year, paid or pro bono, was a series of sparkling spots from the BBDO New York office of BBDO Worldwide, owned by the Omnicom Group. The ads carried this theme: "The New York miracle. Be a part of it."

The commercials, featuring a grinning Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, used humor and special effects to show familiar New York personalities engaged in quests for the quintessential "New York dream," including things like running the bases at Yankee Stadium (Henry Kissinger) and mastering the ice rink at Rockefeller Center (Woody Allen).

No less delightful was a campaign by the Toronto office of the Wolf Group that enlisted Canadians who are well known in the United States to encourage the folks they left back home to visit New York - and spend money there. The campaign, which transformed "I Love NY" temporarily to "Canada Loves NY," included bright performances from Dan Aykroyd, Wayne Gretzky, Eric Lindros, William Shatner and Alex Trebek, and even a cameo by the Canadian prime minister, Jean Chrétien.

YOU'VE GOT - GULP - MAIL Why is it that ad campaigns responding to the anthrax scares were generally far less mawkish and more sensitive than those responding to the terrorist attacks? For instance, an emotional commercial for the United States Postal Service by Grey Worldwide in New York, part of the Grey Global Group, was uplifting without being hyperbolic. The spot, featuring Carly Simon singing "Let the River Run," saluted postal workers for what had suddenly became courageous acts: sorting and delivering mail.

Print ads for the mailing products and services company Pitney Bowes were measured and levelheaded, carrying headlines like "Open With Confidence." They capitalized on the increased need for postal security without exploiting the situation. The ads were created by Douglas Associates in Marco Island, Fla., and Ogilvy One Worldwide in New York, part of the Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide division of the WPP Group.

OOPS, I DRANK IT AGAIN The singer Britney Spears has transformed playing "Gotcha!" with celebrities who endorse one brand but are caught in public consuming another into a pastime the whole family can enjoy. After signing a multimillion- dollar contract with PepsiCo to endorse Pepsi-Cola, a campaign centered on glitzy commercials by BBDO New York, she was twice seen drinking rival brands: Coca-Cola, from the Coca-Cola Company, and Sunkist orange soda, from Cadbury Schweppes.

PepsiCo had to send Ms. Spears a handy list outlining whose soft drinks were whose.

Among other celebrated biters of the hands that feed them is the chef Jamie Oliver, who endorses Sainsbury's, the British supermarket chain owned by J. Sainsbury. He was ridiculed when his wife was photographed with grocery bags bearing the name of a competitive chain, Waitrose, the food retailing arm of the John Lewis Partnership.

DANCE, 10; BRAINS, 3 Print advertisements for two pickup-truck brands mocked Broadway musicals - and, by inference, those who love them - in tired twin retreads of stereotyped images of masculinity.

An ad for the Ford Motor Company's F-150 SuperCrew made a disparaging reference to "West Side Story": "Like I'm supposed to believe these guys, these street gangs, settle their scores by singing and dancing together? Doesn't sound like anybody on the West Side I know." The ad was created by the Detroit office of J. Walter Thompson, part of WPP.

The other ad, for a long-bed version of the Nissan Frontier, sold by the Nissan North America division of the Nissan Motor Company, boasted about the truck's sound system: "Yes, it's got nine speakers. Yes, it's got 300 watts. No, it won't play show tunes." For those still wondering, type at the bottom of the ad offered this advisory: "Built for the Bronx. Not Broadway." The ad was created by the Playa del Rey, Calif., office of TBWA/Chiat/Day, part of the TBWA Worldwide division of Omnicom.

In other words, neither ad was produced in New York. 'Nuff said.

TWO THUMBS UP, IN YOUR EYE Even those moviegoers naïve enough to seek guidance from ads presenting puffy quotations from captivated (and frequently captive) critics do not deserve to be misled. Tell that to the Sony Corporation's Sony Pictures Entertainment division - two of its executives invented rave reviews by a critic named David Manning from a Connecticut newspaper, The Ridgefield Press, for subpar fare like "The Animal" and "A Knight's Tale."

The paper is real, but there is no such movie critic there. Rather, he has become symbolic of the irrational disdain many Hollywood marketing executives have for "those wonderful people out there in the dark," to quote from the finale of the film "Sunset Boulevard." This foul fakery rates zero stars.

ALTRIA AND ERROR Remember that Tareyton cigarette campaign showing actors with make-believe black eyes, meant to demonstrate that Tareyton smokers "would rather fight than switch"? Now it's the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, the Philip Morris Companies, that is sporting a black eye after proposing to change its corporate name to the Altria Group.

Some critics contend that the new name - developed by Landor Associates, part of the Young & Rubicam division of WPP - is a smoke screen, if you will, masking how much tobacco still dominates the Philip Morris product lines. Others dismiss the name as bland or lackluster.

Worse yet, there is already an Altria Healthcare and an Altira Group. The first is complaining, and the second is suing. Maybe it is time to call for Philip Morrrrrrisssss to devise a different new name.

SPEAKING THE UNSPEAKABLE There was a time when cigarette ads that included words like "carcinogens" and "lung cancer" were considered as likely as, say, having a Supreme Court divided along ideological lines determine who would become president of the United States. But times change, and tastes change, too, as ads once declared for Tempo cigarettes, a brand from that era.

Now, only seven years after tobacco industry leaders testified before Congress that their products caused no diseases, two cigarette makers are promoting new brands by raising the specter of smoking's risks. One is Advance, from the Brown & Williamson division of British American Tobacco; ads by Fitzmaurice, Lewis & Partners in Louisville, Ky., promise "All of the taste . . . less of the toxins." The other is Omni, from the Vector Group; ads by Trone Advertising in High Point, N.C., carry the theme "Reduced carcinogens. Premium taste."

CARRYING A TORCH? A television commercial for Chevrolet, centered on its participation in the "Keep America Rolling" promotion sponsored by its parent, General Motors, opened with a stirring shot of the Statue of Liberty. Alas, the commercial's appearance in a letterbox format cropped off most of the torch, making it look as if the statue had been damaged in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

Fortunately, the spot was re-edited and now runs with the statue depicted intact. The commercial was created by Campbell-Ewald in Warren, Mich., part of the FCB Group division of the Interpublic Group of Companies.


Stuart Elliott, The New York Times. December 28, 2001

Copyright © 2001 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.