1997 AD FOLLIES

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And He's not talking . . .

"God knows what they're doing in marketing." -- PR chief at a car company, saying he couldn't explain what the marketing staff was up to.

CHOKE ARTIST

By throttling coach P.J. Carlesimo and threatening to kill him, now-former Golden State Warriors star Latrell Sprewell also put a partial choke-hold on Converse. The sneaker marketer was planning to feature him in a commercial slated for February, part of a new brand push created by Houston Herstek Favat, Boston. But after the NBA banned Spree-for-Three for a year, Converse bounced him from its endorsement payroll. The company is looking at replacements, but at press time the only Converse athlete scheduled to appear in the campaign was another one of the NBA's class acts: Dennis Rodman.

Extra mileage

How to promote a car, a TV show, the richest guy on the planet and "sexual perversion"? The answer is "Da da da." In the Volkswagen Golf spot from Arnold Communications, Boston, two young men driving nowhere in particular stuff a discarded chair in their Golf -- and quickly dump the chair because it smells. Gays applauded when VW debuted the spot in April on the coming-out episode of "Ellen," while the Rev. Donald Wildmon accused the company of "promoting sexual perversion." ABC parodied the spot in a summer promo for "Spin City" with stars Michael J. Fox and Michael Boatman. Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates and sidekick Steve Ballmer took their own slackerly spin in a spoof shown last month at the Comdex computer show.

Rudy the red-nosed mayor

What not to do when an ad appears that you hope nobody will see. If you are the mayor of New York, don't order your staff to remove advertising from city buses that poke fun at your image, especially ads with a tagline that touts 'New York' as "the magazine for the center of the world." In November, ads were scheduled to appear on New York buses that read "Possibly the only good thing about New York that Rudy hasn't taken credit for." Mayoral aides pressured Metropolitan Transportation Authority to pull the ads off the buses the weekend before they were scheduled to appear. 'New York' filed a lawsuit to have the ads reinstated, and Mr. Giuliani countered by citing a provision of the state's civil rights law that says a person's name cannot be used without his consent for commercial purposes. The Manhattan judge's decision in favor of 'New York' and with orders to reinstate the ads were widely covered, with front-page articles in 'The New York Times' and 'Daily News.' 'New York' got the last laugh. The yearend "New Yorkers of '97" double issue features a picture of the mayor on the front of a city bus, declaring him "Man of the Year."

hit the brakes

Cadillac yanked a Catera spot featuring Cindy Crawford, in a miniskirt and leather boots, less than a month after it first aired during the Super Bowl. GM female executives were concerned the spot might offend the educated, sophisticated women being targeted for the new car. Caddy's explanation: no time to pre-test the $2 million ad from D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Troy, Mich. The spot was a rush job after Caddy couldn't get its first-choice celeb -- crooner Barry White. Recently, at the presentation for GM's first-ever Alpha awards, an internal ad competition, North American Operations marketing chief Phil Guarascio said Caddy submitted the Crawford spot under the category "Best National TV Execution Pulled Off the Air," and he quipped that the spot "took 30 seconds to run and about 60 seconds to pull off the air. Talk about switching from a push to a pull strategy." Actually, Cadillac was one of only two GM brands (the other was GMAC) that didn't win one of the 10 Alpha awards. At sister GM unit Saturn, advertising featuring Saturn owner Holly Daniel was pulled in March after doubts arose that she was really deaf. (Turns out she wasn't.) By the end of April, Saturn confirmed that the carmaker and Hal Riney & Partners, San Francisco, would move the ad spotlight from Saturn owners to the cars in the 1998 model year, but denied Ms. Daniel was behind the strategy shift.

Mir-acle MILK

When the cosmonauts on the Mir space station last summer weren't dealing with colliding spaceships or other such mundanities, they found time to do something really unusual: film a commercial for an Israeli dairy. Gitam/ BBDO, Tel Aviv, conceived of the ad for Tnuva milk. Star of the spot was Russian spaceman Vasily Tsibliyev. Fellow cosmonaut Alexander Lazutkin filmed the spot with a camcorder.

AND SELL IT TO THE DEVIL

Some ads brag that their products will save you money. Some say they'll save you time. But Volvo Cars of North America, in ads for its V70 station wagons, made the ultimate claim. The advertising from Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, was themed: "It is perhaps our most impressive safety advance ever -- a Volvo that can save your soul."

Placement problem

A few days after Princess Diana and two others died in a Paris car crash, MSNBC's Web site showed a picture of her demolished Mercedes-Benz right above a banner ad reading, "Feeling trapped inside your old car? Escape here @Toyota.' The Web ad was pulled as soon as someone noticed the juxtaposition. Debby Fry Wilson, PR chief at msnbc.com, called the ad's placement "an unfortunate coincidence."

Two for the road

In late October, Susan Gianinno, CEO of J. Walter Thompson USA's New York office, said she had no desire to leave JWT. Also that month, JWT Worldwide Creative Director Helayne Spivak reassured staffers that reports she was leaving were inaccurate and "I'm here and I have no plans to be anywhere else." By the second week of November, both had departed JWT.

Big Mac headaches

McDonald's Corp. couldn't get much relief from its marketing headaches by looking abroad:

In Austria, the chain caught flak for placemats that featured a map of the country, as conceived by Adolf Hitler. McDonald's said all it had wanted to do was highlight beef-producing regions, but the map's division of Austria into seven districts matched Hitler's plan after he took over. McDonald's Austria Marketing Director Barbara Enzinger called it "an unfortunate coincidence." A German agency, Heyer & Partner, came up with the placemat idea.

In Norway, McDonald's pulled the McLaks salmon burger off the market after four customers were treated for food poisoning. McLaks had been a hit with health-conscious Norwegians, and McDonald's had been considering expanding the product to Sweden and Denmark.

In the U.K., the Scottish tartan used for employee uniforms got McDonald's in trouble. The design happened to be that of the Clan Lindsay, rivals to the Donalds.

Good news, however, from Macedonia, which became the 104th country to sprout the golden arches.

More missteps overseas

In Australia, the governments of Victoria and South Australia banned a bus-shelter poster for Bacardi lemon rum drink. Officials were concerned about the effect the scented poster would have on children and people with drinking problems. Bacardi-Martini Asia Pacific said it would pick less contentious locations.

Groupe Danone pulled an ad for Evian water that featured a man holding a baby, both au naturel. Evian ads had featured naked babies before to symbolize purity, but recent reports of pedophilia in Belgium made Europeans less accepting. Euro RSCG BETC, Paris, redid the ad with an infant girl shown only down to her waist.

A Guinness beer ad from Ogilvy & Mather, London, featured a masked man in a leather straitjacket hanging by chains from a ceiling, with a bowl of oranges and a portrait of Prime Minister John Major nearby. The ad seemed to parody the death in 1994 of a Member of Parliament from Mr. Major's Conservative Party. The Tories called the ad "perverted" and "contemptible." Guinness pulled it.

United Biscuits (China) Ltd. placed ads on trash receptacles in Hangzhou. Ad copy said: "Keebler biscuits taste specially good," and on the other side, "Don't litter." The advertising drew some criticism from people who said it was improper to run food advertising on garbage cans.

Back home in the U.S. of A., Chinese restaurants got steamed at Domecq Importers' Sauza Conmemorativo tequila. An ad in its "Life is harsh" campaign from Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York, showed an empty plate, a fortune cookie and the fortune: "That wasn't chicken."

Kiss my yin-yang

The '70s rock group Kiss, on the comeback trail, aimed to create an entertainment brand via a "Kiss Psycho Circus" marketing concept. To attract licensees, group members are casting themselves as "dark superheroes." Can such a reincarnation work? Joseph Bongiovi of Sony Signatures, which is helping market Kiss, was optimistic, noting that at their concerts "you didn't hear one curse, there wasn't one crotch grab. Dark superheroes are in . . . Consumers can't stomach clean-cut good guy stuff anymore. Kiss has that yin-yang balance of good and evil."

Motley Crued

Kiss wasn't the only band in search of new life. Motley Crue endorsed a soft drink called Motley Brue, produced by Skeleteens. Making the beverage unique was the fact that it turned your mouth -- and excrement -- blue. The drink also plugged the '80s band's attempt at a comeback album.

Babbling Barney

Bill Gates is the richest dad on the planet. But rather than buy daughter Jennifer a toy company, he concocted Microsoft's $99 ActiMates Interactive Barney. The saccharine cyborg dinosaur can talk, sing songs and play peek-a-boo. Barney was a finalist at November's PC Magazine Awards for Technical Excellence, the personal computer industry's most prestigious magazine competition. Alas, Executive Editor Gail Shaffer had to relay the bad news to Barney: He lost.

Battle of the bulge

And speaking of nostalgia, for those who feel they missed out on the healthful effects of being drafted into the military, there's Platoon Fitness Training. The chain broke a TV campaign, via Brownstein Group, Philadelphia, that said it's "looking for a few good men . . . who've had a few too many jelly doughnuts." Platoon's gimmick: boot camp-style exercise programs.

Hooting at Big Blue

IBM Corp. and Ogilvy & Mather, New York, ran afoul of environmentalists over a commercial showing how a young girl used information from her computer to rescue an injured owl. IBM initially said it produced the spot with input from wildlife experts, but later revised the commercial so that the girl didn't actually have the bird in her possession.

A shot of color

And Motley Brue wasn't alone in passing along its hue. Jim Beam Brands Co. tried to reach young adults with Tattoo liqueur. The 60-proof shooter temporarily stains tongues red, blue or yellow.

Transsexuals to millennium

Holiday Inn Worldwide's spot on the Super Bowl used a transsexual as a metaphor for the hotel chain's $1 billion renovation. The spot from Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, was scrapped after the game.

Ed Launzel, marketing director of Slot Marketing Advertising Revenue Retention Techniques, found a silver lining to government efforts to restrict tobacco marketing. Mr. Launzel said he had signed up a major tobacco marketer to place its logo or brand symbol on slot machines, taking the place of more healthful images like cherries or lemons. As he noted, no one under age 21 is permitted in a casino.

LeRoy, N.Y., had reason to celebrate in 1997. The birthplace of Jell-O became the location of a museum dedicated to the gelatin treat. Kraft Foods opened the museum to mark Jell-O's 100th anniversary.

"Superman" Christopher Reeve, paralyzed in 1995 after a horse-riding accident, endorsed a line of clothing with an equestrian-inspired logo of a jumping horse, over the initials CR.

Nabisco Biscuit Co. launched a promotion for Chips Ahoy! that promoted the cookie as a teaching tool in math classes. Kids could enter a contest to find the most creative way to count the chocolate chips in the cookie.

M&M/Mars caught the millennium fever with plans to break in 1998 a big ad and promotional push for M&M's. Its rationale for linking the candy to the year

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