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Marketers carry out war plans

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While the military was preparing strategies in the months leading up to the war with Iraq, advertisers and ad agencies were preparing their own for marketing and advertising during wartime. But, unlike during past wars, they had the advantage of time.

The months-long buildup to the war gave businesses time to evaluate their marketing strategies, put in place contingency plans, prepare media schedules and create messages that would be appropriate in a wartime environment.

Strategies included everything from writing flexible terms for ad placement in contracts to shifting to more e-mail during the first month of the war. Even so, when the first bombs dropped on Baghdad March 19, some business ground to a halt, with significant consequences for marketers.

United Parcel Service of America Inc., for example, which launched a major rebranding campaign on March 25, had to cancel media and customer events in more than 30 countries as a result of the conflict in the Middle East. Trade shows going on during the first week of the war lost some business (see story page 3). Increased network coverage caused some TV ads to be shifted. But, for the most part, b-to-b marketers and their agencies had the benefit of months of planning.

"We were prepared when the war started," said Jeff Lanctot, director of media for Avenue A, an online agency that is owned by aQuantive. "For the last couple of months, we’ve been trying to think through how to appropriately address the war, particularly on online news sites."

The agency evaluated three areas during its wartime preparations: contracts, context and creative. The first addressed contracts with online publishers that would accommodate shifts in media placement in the event of war. Some of the terms included quick "out" clauses if clients wanted to pull ads or make allowances for shifts in placement.

The second area dealt with ad placement. When the war began, several news sites, such as MSNBC.com and CNN.com, created special sections on their sites, so the agency was able to shift some of its ads to the new sections. In some cases, however, it moved ads from news pages to entertainment pages, so a message would not appear on the same page as war coverage.

Finally, it looked at creative execution and the appropriateness of messages during wartime. One travel client, which Lanctot declined to name, had planned a large branding campaign in the weeks following March 19.

"It was going to be a high-impact creative and run on several news sites, but we didn’t feel it was appropriate during the initial weeks of the war," Lanctot said. So, the client shifted to a direct response campaign, which was more understated but targeted a qualified audience.

Another marketer, Dow AgroSciences, spent considerable time evaluating its marketing strategy prior to the war. This business unit of Dow Chemical Co. was planning a major campaign for its Sentricon Termite Colony Elimination System. That campaign was developed by Bader-Rutter & Associates Inc., Brookfield, Wis. Dow, which sells directly to pest control companies and uses a pull-through advertising strategy to direct consumers to its authorized dealers, began making preparations for its campaign months before the war, due to the seasonality of its product.

"As we saw the buildup in the region occur, we felt we’d better have our plans in place," said Drew Ratterman, communications manager for the Sentricon product line at Dow AgroSciences. "[The war] was lining up so the crosshairs would be right in our season." For the majority of the geographic markets Dow serves, termite season runs from March through July.

Dow had planned a major integrated campaign for March, including TV, print and media relations. "We were prepared for commercial-free preemptions, at least for the first 72 hours," Ratterman said. With this in mind, Dow planned a media schedule that would balance spots across morning news, evening news and some late fringe.

The pre-emptions were not as bad as expected: The networks did not go to commercial-free coverage, and offered make-goods for advertisers whose spots were preempted because of breaking news.

In addition to spreading out its media schedule, Dow suspended media relations activities in the first few days of the war and postponed one event during the week war broke out.

"We knew the major networks would be focused on war coverage and would not be interested in hearing pitches on termite control," Ratterman said.

Some pulled ads

Some marketers took a more cautious approach, pulling ads completely in the initial hours of the war.

"In general, the majority of our clients pulled back for 72 hours and took stock of the marketplace before they decided how they would move forward," said Carl Fremont, senior VP-global media director at Digitas, a marketing agency. Digitas clients include American Express, Delta Air Lines, General Motors Corp. and Six Continents.

"We recommended that our clients do more one-to-one communications with their customers," Fremont said. "It is particularly important in the service industry to communicate that the service and quality of service won’t be interrupted [during wartime]."

Delta Air Lines, for example, used e-mail in the immediate aftermath of the war to alert travelers where to go online to get updated information about travel arrangements and to assure them about its uninterrupted service and quality of service, Fremont said.

Al DiGuido, CEO of e-mail marketing agency Bigfoot Interactive, said the buildup to the war gave marketers a chance to hone their e-mail marketing. "E-mail is a one-to-one medium, so marketers don’t need to worry as much about the message content as they would in big branding campaigns," DiGuido said.

However, he added, "Marketers are being sensitive about their messages. For b-to-b, it’s pretty much business as usual."

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