BOMBING MAY ALTER BUYING HABITS

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More online shopping, a rethinking of the desirability of some retail sites and a rebirth of patriotism are among the possible changes in consumer attitudes and habits resulting from the April 19 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.

Many marketing executives interviewed nationwide by Advertising Age don't expect any immediate change in consumer buying habits. But others say the way the country conducts business may ultimately be changed by the tragedy.

Media coverage of the bombing has helped raise public awareness of the entire information superhighway, and ultimately will increase use of online services, said John Rizzuti, managing director of Rizzuti Marketing & Media, Carrollton, Texas, which specializes in technology.

"I think online shopping will become more active as a kind of nationwide shopping mall," Mr. Rizzuti said. "It will turn out to be safer, easier and cheaper for consumers."

Even those retailers who prefer the face-to-face contact with their customers might consider a change of location as a result of the bombing, said John Malmo, chairman of Archer/Malmo, a Memphis, Tenn., agency.

"I don't think anyone will want to be a neighbor of a government target," he said. One Minneapolis-area executive, who requested anonymity, said the bombing may further disaffect people about the power of institutions such as the federal government to protect them and their families, or there could be a new strain of patriotism.

"People may decide that this is the time to support the government, and with that in mind, continue their established behaviors," this executive said.

A Roper Starch Worldwide study presented last fall to the Public Relations Society of America focused on workplace issues, but also discussed the growing distrust of the "elites" in American society.

"There was already a sense that people were starting to distrust the president, Congress, the federal government," the executive said. "The bombing ....may turn that attitude around for many people."

However, the arrest of Timothy McVeigh also has put the spotlight on those disaffected with the government who have joined right-wing militia groups (see related story on this page).

Businesses with only domestic interests were not especially concerned with security until the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Oklahoma City is certain to spark further reviews.

"It's tragic, but it's the kind of thing that makes the phone ring off the hook," said Frank Johns, managing director of Pinkerton Risk Assessment Services, Alexandria, Va.

"I don't think we as a society can begin to create our habits around fanatics," said David Henry, principal at Henry Gill Advertising in Denver. "I think people are going to give it [the bombing] thought for some time, and I think it's going to be in the back of people's minds for a while," he said, but added, "Hopefully, people will get back to their routines and live their lives according to the way they want to live them vs. the way fanatics want you to live."

Then there was Shaun (he didn't want his last name used), the marketing manager for the Gun Room, which has the Portland, Ore., area's largest selection of rifles and shotguns.

Shaun said his customers know they stand a better chance of being struck by lightning than of being the victims of a terrorist attack, so he has no plans to change his extensive advertising program on two local TV stations.

"I might add hard hats and flak jackets for fun" to the product mix being advertised, Shaun said.

Contributing to this story: Alan Salomon, Laura Loro, Candace Talmadge, Jo McIntyre, Tammy Parker, Laurie Freeman and Advertising Age's Business Marketing.

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