Consumers split on 9/11 ad views

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Fifty-one percent of U.S. consumers believe marketers should go dark Sept. 11, according to an exclusive Advertising Age survey.

The survey, conducted by WPP Group's Lightspeed Research, found that only 34% of consumers believe it is acceptable to run any advertising on the one-year anniversary of the terror attacks; 15% had no opinion.

Sixty-two percent of the 307 respondents to the online survey said their opinion of a company would not change if it advertised Sept. 11. But among those who had an opinion, the overwhelming majority would view the company negatively.

Underscoring the complexity of Americans' feelings about the day, however, survey respondents said they are more likely to support TV advertising on programs that commemorate Sept. 11, with 50% saying it was an appropriate advertising venue, and 44% calling it inappropriate. (Six percent had no opinion.)

Wary advertisers are approaching the day with trepidation (see story, above right), while media sellers anticipate a major slowdown.

"The first anniversary of September 11 is not a good day to sell hamburgers," said Rich Hamilton, CEO of Zenith Optimedia Group Americas.

many opt out

Many advertisers will opt out, and the networks will either go commercial-free or with limited sponsorships, said Bill Koenigsberg, president-CEO of Horizon Media. "Content will drive the decision."

TV networks could stand to lose a collective $32 million in prime-time advertising alone Sept. 11. One media executive estimates that each of the Big 3 networks could lose $6 million in prime time. The total cost may be more substantial. News Corp.'s Fox Broadcasting Co. and Fox News Channel have announced they will not take any advertising for the full day, a $5 million hit. Fox ad-sales executives said advertisers asked months ago about programming Sept. 11 and when the network said it would air special news coverage, virtually all backed out.

Peggy Conlon, president-CEO of The Ad Council, said the networks have approached her about using PSAs that day, such as spots from the Ad Council's current Campaign for Freedom. "Everyone is searching for messages that are not commercials."

Boeing Co. is close to a deal with General Electric Co.'s NBC to sponsor its special evening "Concert for America." An NBC spokeswoman wouldn't comment.

Boeing-maker of the four planes involved in the attacks-will need to address that sensitive situation. "We're looking at options for 9/11," said Anne Toulouse, VP-brand management and advertising at Boeing. "Certainly, finding something that is appropriate and represents our values is very key."

ABC is attempting to sell four to six sponsorship/underwriting packages at $1 million apiece for its umbrella coverage called "9/11," according to one media agency executive. Another said ABC has already closed one deal with an undisclosed advertiser. An ABC spokeswoman said only, "We are leaving the door open."

A&E and the History Channel will run special programming with ads. MSNBC is searching for several advertisers to underwrite large portions of the day with limited commercial breaks. Discovery Networks has a slew of 9/11 programming planned and is working out ad plans, including two commercial-free programs on the Discovery Channel. Jane Gorard, director of BBC World in London, said its global news channel is planning a special day of coverage with live links worldwide.

contributing: bill britt, cara b. dipasquale, wayne friedman, david goetzl, richard linnett, kate macarthur

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