Adages

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Six feet under, Texas style: Come and get 'em, dirt-cheap coffins

In last Sunday's edition of the Dallas Morning News, a full-page ad for Budget Caskets of Fort Worth notified Texans that they had the right to bring their own casket to a funeral. The ad pointed out that Federal Trade Commission rules allowed for this and then called on consumers to exercise their God-given (or in this case, government-given) freedoms by purchasing a Budget Casket. "We will beat anyone's price or give you the headstone FREE!" read the ad.

"I give away headstones all the time," says Bob Davis, president of Budget. "Not because anyone beat my price. Sometimes they'll come in and they'll ask me to beat a price over here, I'll beat the price and give them the headstone. Heck, I've given caskets away for free. It's good advertising."

Bob, who creates Budget's print executions himself, says he knows a lot about advertising. Before he got into the casket business he was the publisher of Auto Trader, a used-car newspaper. Bob got into the casket business eight years ago, after his father died. The funeral cost $20,000, including $7,995 for the casket, and according to Bob, his father later appeared to him in a dream and said: "Son, you got rooked."

"I didn't know anything about caskets," Bob told the Dallas Morning News. "But I knew that when I went to the feed store and bought a watering trough for our horses, the only difference was it didn't have a lid on it-and it cost only $40."

He set up his own successful, cut-rate retail casket shop that sold direct to the public and got a lot of nasty letters from funeral directors. The Texas Banking Commission, which regulates the funeral industry, forced him to get a funeral director's license, which he did by opening a funeral chapel in Fort Worth. He also opened up three more casket superstores, which sell plain wooden boxes for $275. His top-of-the-line item costs under $3,000.

"The guys at the funeral homes tell people, `Don't go over there to Budget Casket `cause they've got cheap Mexican caskets,' even though they are selling the same brands," says Bob. "They say the handles break off and the bottoms fall out. That's impossible. "

Bob also has been running a broadcast campaign. "I do all-nighters," Bob says. "When my father was dying, I stayed up all night, and I found that a lot of my potential customers do too. It seems to have worked really well for me." The spots, of course, were created by Bob. See the spots on AdAge.com QwikFIND aan96w

And yes, it is true, Texans like to be buried with their boots on. "Sometimes it's hard to close the lid with some of those pointy toes," Bob says.

Still kicking?

A Buick TV spot from McCann-Erickson's Detroit-area office (see story P. 3) shows a Jack Russell terrier with the brand's new spokesman-the ghost of GM's legendary designer Harley Earl-in the back seat of Park Avenue Ultra. Didn't anyone at McCann remember how Nissan used the same breed with its smiling Mr. K in ads from the mid-to-late 1990s? "That was just one spot with a truck and it said `dogs love trucks,"' says Garry Neel, the exec VP in charge of McCann Detroit. Neel says the dog is only used in that one (of five) spots and was only shown because "dogs can see ghosts and people can't." Another breed was originally slated, but the producer or director changed it, he added.

Dave Moore, chief creative director at the McCann office, called the late Harley Earl "like the living, breathing embodiment of the brand without the breathing part."

Contributing: Jean Halliday, Lisa Fain These boots are made for walking: rlinnett@crain.com

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