Yes, the Food & Drug Administration's tobacco ad rule juggernaut has been sidetracked. But there will be appeals, and more pressure on the Federal Trade Commission to jump in to fill the void. And, the First Amendment notwithstanding, the Supreme Court has for now given a green light to city councils eager to ban outdoor ads for tobacco and alcoholic beverages from their neighborhoods.
Barring a settlement of some kind, the tobacco business and the ad industry seem doomed to plod on toward some ultimate legal Armageddon-where judges and juries ponder billions in liability claims and where nine Supreme Court justices, making a critical decision on the future of advertising's First Amendment protection, will weigh the plight of youngsters hooked on nicotine against the "rights" of huge multinational corporations. It's not a pretty picture, but we're sure there are bitter-enders on both sides of this war ready, and eager, to go the distance and roll the dice in hopes of gaining ultimate victory.
Given the risks involved, a settlement looks more and more to be in everyone's best interest. Nearly a year ago, Philip Morris Cos. and U.S. Tobacco Co. said they were prepared to accept-voluntarily-many of the ad restrictions President Clinton and anti-smoking groups had sought as part of a wider settlement of tobacco issues. Now R.J. Reynolds Tobacco has joined them. It seems clear tobacco companies have prepared for the day when the rules of the marketing game would change for them, once again.
We supported negotiations then, we do so now. There are many, many hurdles, not the least that state attorneys general and private plaintiff attorneys will demand so much that tobacco executives will choose to fight-with their ad industry allies, presumably, at their sides. What a waste and a peril for the rest of advertising that would be.
The decade isn't nearly over and already a 1990s story has made it into
marketing textbooks. That's the launch of General Motors Corp.'s Saturn and the integrated marketing program from Hal Riney & Partners that helped it succeed.
From the beginning, the ad assignment to the San Franciso agency was closely watched, the work highly anticipated-and Riney delivered: "A different kind of company. A different kind of car." A different kind of car
advertising. Ads at first focused on the people who made the car, down in Spring Hill, Tenn., then switched effortlessly to the people who bought them. The agency was creative in its media operations, too, working in new ways with magazines, outdoor, even TV.
As auto advertising goes, this campaign has been a refreshing change. And, though the "owners" campaign has had a PR glitch of late, it's sad to see Saturn shift gears for its new model lineup coming this fall. We can't fault it or its dealers for wanting to change direction, target new buyers, explain new cars more fully-maybe it's time. But we can throw up a warning sign: Watch the next turn. There's much sameness in auto ads still, and a number of car marques and their agencies are trying hard to do what Saturn did better than most-create a strong, distinctive brand image. Nissan's "Enjoy the ride" is but one example.
So, Saturn, be careful not to fall into the trap others are fighting to break free of. It would be a different kind of place for you, full of curves, rain-slick roads-a place you don't want to go.