Our Columnist Asks: War What is It Good For?

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Unlike the oil industry, Madison Ave. is not feeling bullish about war. Most advertising execs Adages spoke to last week-following President Bush's speech in Cincinnati arguing for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq-predict a war will cripple an already weak advertising market. "Who wants to do a fall product launch while we're street fighting in Baghdad?" said a top media-agency executive. Others said advertisers would have to rethink planned fall and winter campaigns, a process that will slow ad spending. "No one knows how to proceed," said another exec. "Everyone's worried about sending out the wrong message." Broadcasters and publishers should brace themselves for the worst, said yet another worried exec.

The best thing to happen to soldiers since guns

The ad-sales team at Gannett's Military Times Media Group, meanwhile, is preparing for a big boom, so to speak. They publish the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Times, weekly publications read mostly by the common soldier. "We are the independent voice of the troops and about the troops," says David Smith, VP-marketing for the group. "There are a lot of colonels out there who don't like us because we don't toe the party line." Circulation has grown by almost 2% this year to over 240,000 readers.

Big-brand motorcycle, liquor, insurance, truck and stereo marketers buy ad space. "We have an active duty lifestyle readership that's 80% male and 72% between 18 and 34 years old, with a high-level of discretionary income because their housing is provided for." Including those tents on the Kandahar plain in Afghanistan.

These pubs have all the trappings of modern men's magazines without the glossy covers. The current issue of the Army Times features a product review of personal audio devices. "Service members [can] take their music with them when they deploy," reads the caption under a photo of a soldier listening to tunes in his Kabul barracks. There are fashion tips about selecting a stylish "marathon wardrobe" for an upcoming Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. In past issues there was a "Bad Beret Day" cover story with photo guide on "how to wear it right," and another cover on "Cool Gear" featuring a spread of Special Op's warriors aiming new M16A2 rifles and modeling the latest government-issue cargo pants, flak jackets and day packs. This week there's a service piece: "Down & Dirty Dozen: 12 things you need to know before going to Iraq." (No. 4: "Who's on our side?" No. 5: "Who are the bad guys?" No. 9: "What should I know about the creatures I might find in Iraq?")

War stories are now a staple in men's titles (a splashy U.K. newcomer called Jack magazine promotes itself as "an orgy of war, animals, fashion, genius and cool"), and the Military Times can't be beat on this topic. However, it's sorely lacking in the sex department. On Aug. 19, there was a feature on sex slaves in nightclubs near U.S. bases; however, the story was an expose, not a guide.

Direct response

"no comment," said a spokeswoman at Dixon Davis Media Group in Washington, D.C., the political-consulting outfit that created the ad that brought down state Sen. Mike Taylor, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate representing Montana. Taylor was facing incumbent Democrat Sen. Max Baucus and was already trailing badly in polls when the Montana Democratic Party hammered the last nail in his coffin with this spot. It revives "Beauty Corner," a series of 1980 infomercials Taylor produced to promote a barber and beauty college he once owned in Colorado. Taylor, married with two kids, dropped out of the race last week because he said the ad insinuated he was a "gay hairdresser." Dixon Davis also handled ads for the Missouri Democratic Party against then Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), defeated by Gov. Mel Carnahan, who died mid-election.