Fifty-one percent of U.S. consumers believe marketers should go dark Sept. 11, according to an exclusive Advertising Age survey.
The survey, conducted by WPP Group's Lightspeed Research, found that only 34% of consumers believe it is acceptable to run any advertising on the one-year anniversary of the terror attacks; 15% had no opinion.
Sixty-two percent of the 307 respondents to the online survey said their opinion of a company would not change if it advertised Sept. 11. But among those who said their opinions would change, the overwhelming majority said they would view the company negatively.
Underscoring the complexity of Americans' feelings about the day, however, survey respondents said they are more likely to support TV advertising on programs that commemorate Sept. 11, with 50% saying it was an appropriate advertising venue, and 44% calling it inappropriate. (Six percent had no opinion.)
Advertisers, wary of consumer backlash, are approaching the day with trepidation, while media sellers anticipate a major slowdown.
"The first anniversary of Sept. 11 is not a good day to sell hamburgers," said Rich Hamilton, CEO of Zenith Optimedia Group Americas, a joint venture of Cordiant Communications Group and Publicis Groupe.
Many advertisers will opt out, and the networks will either go commercial-free or with limited sponsorships, said Bill Koenigsberg, president-CEO of Horizon Media. "Content will drive the decision."
"The questions are still on the table as the networks try to figure out what they're going to do," said Pat Dermody, president of integration at Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Chicago.
TV networks could stand to lose a collective $32 million in prime-time advertising alone Sept. 11, depending on which option they choose. One media executive estimates that each of the Big 3 networks could lose $6 million in prime time. The total cost may be more substantial. Fox Broadcasting Co. and Fox News Channel have announced they will not take any advertising for the full day, a $5 million hit. Fox ad-sales executives said advertisers asked months ago about programming Sept. 11 and when the network said it would air special news coverage, virtually all backed out.
Peggy Conlon, president-CEO of the Ad Council, said the networks have approached her about using public service announcements that day, such as spots from the Ad Council's current Campaign for Freedom and the emotional "I Am An American" spot created by Omnicom's GSD&M, Austin, after Sept. 11. "Everyone is searching for messages that are not commercials," she said.
In a rather surprising alignment, aircraft maker Boeing Co. is close to a deal with General Electric Co.'s NBC's to sponsor its special evening "Concert for America." An NBC spokeswoman wouldn't comment.
Boeing -- maker of the four planes involved in the attacks -- will need to address that sensitive situation. Its creative is still unknown, but media executives speculated the company could do some sort of public-service spots.
"We're looking at options for 9/11 and we don't have anything to announce," said Anne Toulouse, vice president of brand management and advertising at Boeing. "Certainly, finding something that is appropriate and represents our values is very key."
Walt Disney Co.'s ABC is attempting to sell four to six sponsorship/underwriting packages that day at $1 million apiece for its umbrella programming coverage called "9/11," according to one media agency executive. Another media executive said ABC has already closed one deal with an undisclosed advertiser. An ABC spokeswoman said only, "We are leaving the door open; we are still pursuing interested parties."
Many cable channels, including Viacom's MTV and Hearst Corp. and Disney's Lifetime, are undecided on whether to run ads, but do plan theme programming. A&E Television Networks' A&E and History Channel will run special programming with ads. MSNBC is searching for several advertisers to underwrite large portions of the day with limited commercial breaks.
Discovery Networks has a slew of 9/11 programming planned for its channels and is still working out ad plans, including two commercial-free programs on the Discovery Channel. Jane Gorard, director of BBC World in London, said its global news channel is planning a special day of coverage with live links worldwide.
Bill Britt, Cara B. DiPasquale, Wayne Friedman, David Goetzl, Richard Linnett and Kate MacArthur contributed to this report.
Mercedes M. Cardona, AdAge.com. August 5, 2002
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