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There goes the neighborhood

The news last week of WorldCom's bookkeeping woes-it overstated its financial results by almost $4 billion, fired its top senior financial executive and announced it will cut 17,000 employees-leaves Adages wondering about MCI's good neighbor policy. The long distance company, which was acquired by WorldCom in 1998, recently launched an ad campaign touting "The Neighborhood built by MCI." The company describes this service as a "new local phone company that believes in your right to talk longer, call farther and speak freely." The campaign is couched in the type of personal-empowerment-speak that is now typical of many communications company ad executions, such as Cingular's "Express yourself" campaign. MCI's "The power to speak is our right as humans" approach goes a bit further, cavalierly equating phone chatter (for "$49.99 per month") with our sacred first amendment. "All words are created equal. The power to use them is our right as humans." That's a line from a TV spot created by MCI shop Deutsch. Unfortunately, some companies don't always practice what they preach, especially when it comes to crisis time. Adages put in many phone calls last week seeking information on the accounting crisis and what effect it might have on MCI's marketing plans. Deutsch refused to comment and referred calls to the client. MCI would not comment on ad plans. So much for self-expression.

Papa, don't preach

"Pardon me while I vent," writes Lee Garfinkel, creative director at D'Arcy, in the pages of "Creative Uprising," a big magazine the agency published in time for distribution at the Cannes ad fest. Lee, who was a festival judge, penned a manifesto with the catchy title: "Can advertising be good when everything else is so bad?" and yes he complains about just about everything, including stolen ad ideas. "I've had so many ideas stolen I'm thinking of putting a reel together of just my stolen commercials," Lee threatens. "The re-do of my original Cindy Crawford Pepsi commercial is a cold bore. Remember, all we have as creators are our ideas. Don't steal them. Get your own." But Lee, what about D'Arcy's recent Cadillac dealers association ad-an homage to Steven Spielberg's film "Duel"-that features two tractor-trailer drivers apparently harassing a frightened couple in a Caddy? They pull alongside and then harmlessly gesture at them to blow their horn. Isn't that way too similar to Crispin Porter Bogusky's online ad for BMW Mini in which two young dudes in a Mini are chased down by a tractor-trailer driver who ends up making the same honking gesture? Lee tells Adages that he hasn't seen either ad; the Caddy spot was created by D'Arcy, Detroit. "There's a difference between a coincidence and outright plagiarism," says Lee. "Some ideas are just in the air." Both ads broke in May. (See them on Ad Age.com QwikFIND aa69l)

Close, but no breath mints

Last week, our "Guessing Game: Omnicom or Omnimedia" stumped most comers. Many readers came close to answering all questions correctly, but No. 9 boggled even the best minds: "The CEO of this company said `I don't know if I should shake it or break it' when shaking hands with an Ad Age reporter at a cocktail reception." Most readers thought the answer was John Wren of Omnicom. The correct answer is Martha Stewart of Omnimedia. "I just didn't think a woman would say something like that," one respondent told Adages. Well, this is no ordinary woman (see "Overheard at AMC," AA, Oct. 30, 2000, P. 28). Correct answers are: 1) Omnicom 2) Omnimedia 3) Omnimedia and/or Omnicom 4) Omnicom 5) Omnimedia 6) Omnicom 7) Omnimedia 8) Omnicom 9) Omnimedia.

Contributing: Bradley Johnson Send stolen ideas to rlinnett@crain.com