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Ad industry shifts to reflect nation’s serious tone

Advertising copy, media plans and television programming are under microscopic scrutiny as local ad agencies and TV stations go back to work after last week’s terrorist attacks on the United States.
Media plans went topsy-turvy after TV networks decided not to air any commercials following the disaster. As a result, schedules have been pushed back by several days, but agencies have not seen any cuts in advertising budgets.
“We had a couple of clients go off the air altogether, they moved their weeks especially with television networks not running commercials,” said Susan Butler, partner at Butler/Till Media Services Inc.
And it is not just media plans that have been juggled. Agency staffers are paying close attention to copy in ads that were expected to hit markets and those already running in publications and on television.
“Clients are trying to make sure that things that were running were sensitive to the situation,” said Gregory Smith, president of Jay Advertising Inc.
The agency last week had to create an ad for Preferred Care in a short time period that expressed appropriate sentiments. Dressed in red, white and blue, the ad saluted all Americans.
Another Jay client requested the reworking of copy for an ad expected to air last week. Smith declined to disclose the name of the client, but indicated that the words did not suit the current situation.
“We are in a somewhat unique situation and clients that are communicators need to be proactive,” he said. “We had to stop and review all the creative in case there was a message that could be misconstrued.”
Media buyers at Butler/Till also worked with local agencies to review ads within existing media plans to ensure sensitivity to the tragedy.
Insurer Excellus Inc. has changed its advertising schedule in some markets. The firm is a Roberts Communications client.
“They felt it wasn’t the right time to talk about commercial interests,” said William Murtha, president of Roberts Communications.
Consistent with requests from the nation’s top elected officials, firms are focusing on getting back to business, local ad officials say.
“No matter what business you were in, people took a day or two to put life on hold,” Roberts’ Murtha said. “But nobody has canceled projects or stopped any work.”
The ad world often relies on comedy and a lighthearted approach to selling products and services, in order to stand out amid the competition. Breakthrough branding messages laced with humor are not unusual.
“There are times when you can joke about national events and this is one you cannot joke about,” said Eugene Fram, Rochester Institute of Technology’s J. Warren McClure research professor of marketing.
Marketers are expected to become risk-averse, adopting a serious tone in their communication.
“It will be another filter that one has to put it through while creating appropriate advertising,” Roberts’ Murtha said. “There will probably be more sensitivity about humor. What was funny then may not be funny anymore.”
Jay Quinn, managing partner at Eric Mower and Associates Inc., agreed that a more serious tone will prevail.
“It will be a while before you might see an ad similar to the McDonald’s one, ‘We love to see you smile,'” he said.
Headlines touting “explosive savings” or comments on the New York City attitude or culture have become muted.
“We have to take a closer look at imagery and headlines that may not be appropriate or that may bring up sad memories,” said MaryLynn Grazter, account director and executive vice president at Saatchi & Saatchi Rowland. “We have to be sensitive to American culture.”
With advertising being shaken up, publishers around the nation have issued warnings that the airplane attacks could affect financial results. The Gannett Co. Inc., the New York Times Co. and E.W. Scripps Co. are expected to revise their outlooks for coming months.
Gannett’s local publication, the Democrat and Chronicle, was among those that revised media plans, Butler/Till officials said.
Amid changes in commercial schedules, television networks have been reworking programming content. Movies that depict violence or terrorist bombings have been replaced with others. Rochester’s Warner Bros. affiliate WRWB-TV16 has canceled the airing of the violent film “Mortal Kombat,” replacing it with “Dennis the Menace,” a family comedy.
“Advertisers have moved back some dates into late September and further into October. We have also moved back premiere launches of shows,” said Tish Robinson, general manager of WRWB.
CBS Worldwide Inc. has pushed the premiere of its show “The Agency” to a later date.
“The first scene opened with a bomb threat from a Middle Eastern country. CBS has taken some serious looks at programming,” said Timothy Busch, vice president and general manager of WROC-TV 8, the local CBS affiliate.
Ad agency officials remain optimistic about the future, expecting clients to conduct business as usual.
“People are going to focus more strongly on being more successful and turning the economy around,” said David Reece, vice president and creative director at Idea Connections.
Difficult times could lie ahead, though. RIT’s Fram thinks retailers who predicted a tepid Christmas season could be revising promotional plans.
“Advertising can be easily cut,” he said, “and sometimes the impact doesn’t take place for a while.”

09/21/01 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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