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Mixed feelings on wartime ads
Profit, patriotism questions weighed

Cindi Runowski is faced with a quandary: Her small shop in Missouri's Ozarks is stocked with patriotic merchandise that is not selling.

She would like to advertise, but does not want to seem like she is trying to profit off the war with Iraq.

"I don't really want to push it," said Runowski, who lost a brother in Vietnam and has a daughter in the Army Reserves at Ft. Bragg, N.C. "It bothers my conscience to try to make a buck when young men are dying overseas. I support our troops, but we're not being rah-rah about [selling items]."

Many business owners like Runowski are questioning to what extent, if any, they should use patriotism as they try to bring in sales, or how much support they should show for U.S. soldiers fighting in Iraq. They are worried about appearing disingenuous.

"There appears to be genuine angst as people wrestle with this issue," said Hoag Levins, editor of Advertising Age magazine's Web site, AdAge.com. "It's a rare time of thoughtful debate in this industry, which normally is focused on nothing but money. I think there's actually a watershed event happening."

Levins and other observers say many marketers are re-evaluating the content and tone of their wartime advertising. Those who have gone with patriotic themes are doing so more softly than they did in the days after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"After Sept. 11, everyone was using flags [in marketing]. This time, I don't see it so blatantly," Levins said. "It's the beginning of a balancing act that's going to get increasingly tricky" for advertisers as the war continues.

Not lost on marketers, some observers say, is the consumer recoil over some ads that were perceived as profiteering from the 2001 terrorist strikes. An example: Some auto dealers who hawked zero-percent financing as ultra-American, saying car sales would help the grieving nation's economy.

Many firms are scrutinizing their ad copy. Some are not advertising at all, while others are screening out images that might appear inappropriate.

"In a properly placed manner, they don't seem outlandishly jarring," Levins said. "Everyone is applying a sense of taste and propriety, trying to get this right."

In indefinitely suspending newspaper ads in its three-state territory, Raleigh, N.C.-based First Citizens Bank decided "we just felt that people wanted to focus on news about the war," spokeswoman Barbara Thompson said.

Posted on aef.com: April 21, 2003


Jim Suhr, chicagotribune.com - April 14, 2003

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