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The Year in Ads
From Touching Tributes to a Smoking Controversy

From patriotic car ads that sprang up after the Sept. 11 attacks, to new cigarette ads promising fewer carcinogens, it has been a controversial year in the world of advertising.

Bob Garfield of Advertising Age magazine picked what he considered the most provocative ads of the year and shared them on Good Morning America today.

In the wake of Sept. 11, some people welcomed a new patriotism in certain ads, while others saw salesmen exploiting the crisis in search of a fast buck.

9/11 Ads

Garfield gave kudos to an ad for the Twin Towers Fund, a charity set up for the families of firefighters, police officers, emergency workers and other uniformed government employees impacted by the World Trade Center attack.

The ad for the charity features New York firefighter Capt. Timothy Stackpole. In a public service announcement recorded before his death, the firefighter - who had nearly died in a previous rescue - said, "The greatest high you can get in life is by helping somebody."

Stackpole died after rushing into Tower Two along with his team. The ad points out that Stackpole and 428 other rescue workers were lost in the World Trade Center tragedy.

"It shows, post 9/11 when everything changed, that you can be emotional, but you can do it with taste and respect for everyone, even victims," Garfield said. "The commercial, which included tape of Stackpole, was a beautiful tribute, not just to him, but to all firefighters."

In another Sept. 11-related ad, "Keep America Rolling," General Motors advertises zero percent financing deals available on cars. The ad copy says "The American dream. We refuse to let anyone take it away. So GM announces interest-free financing on every new car and every new truck, now through Oct. 31."

Garfield says he found the ad to be exploitive.

"They traded on tragedy to sell cars," Garfield said. "The ad, and the whole GM campaign was a big success, but they would have sold a lot of cars with zero percent financing without connecting it to 9/11 or getting the country rolling again."

General Motors took a lot of criticism for the ad. Some letters to the editors of Ad Age called it brazen and exploitive, and wondered how the victims' families felt about it.

Smoke and Mirrors?

Two more controversial ads came from Omni and Advance Low Tar cigarettes, which boast that their cigarettes are "lower in carcinogens," than those of their competitors. The Advance ads proclaim, "all of the taste, less of the toxins."

"The anti-tobacco crowds are very concerned that people will be lulled into a false sense of security with these ads," Garfield said. At least one of the advertisers goes to some extremes to explain the chemistry that makes the carcinogens lower; but "the 20th century is the history of tobacco companies lying through their teeth. These ads came about because the line 'killing you softly' wasn't available.'"

An ad that has also created a stir features Martin Luther King and is for Alcatel, a telecommunications company. The ad features a digitized image of King, at the podium at the Washington Monument, all alone, giving his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

Though some people have said that the ad exploited King's image, Garfield disagrees: "The commercial makes an effective point that if no one in the civil rights movement had been connected, it would have been lost," he said.

In terms of desecrating heroic leaders, you don't have to look any further than ads for President's Day "White Sales" to see that happening, Garfield added.

Silly Sports Ad

In one of the funnier ads of the year, Fox Sports advertised for a cable channel that features only the sports that you are interested in - and not the ones you aren't.

To illustrate the point, they supposedly went to a third-world country and came up with a real sport: Turkish cliff diving. With tongue firmly in cheek, the ad features a Turkish-speaking commentator standing in front of a cliff and giving play-by-play reporting on the competition. The cliff diver jumps off the cliff and lands on the ground, and the audience claps, while the scoreboard flashes.

The ad copy says: "Sports News from the only region you care about. Yours."

The ad won the grand prix for commercials at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

Garfield said it's not really clear about what Fox is really trying to sell, but it is a funny commercial.


unknown author, abcNews.com. December 27, 2001

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