ELECTRICAL UTILITIES IN CALIF. POWER DOWN THEIR AD EFFORTS: STATE POSTPONES JAN. 1 DEADLINE FOR OPEN MARKET

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Frustrated electricity marketers scaled back plans in California last week when the state temporarily pulled the plug on electric utility competition.

The California state advisory boards set up to handle deregulation said they would not be able to meet the Jan. 1 open-market deadline because of computer problems, and moved the opening date to March 31.

After the announcement, Enron Corp., one of the most aggressive competitors in California, temporarily pulled its TV, radio and print advertising, created by Bronner Slosberg Humphrey, Boston, and Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York. The company kicked off a $10 million-plus campaign in late October that was scheduled to run through January.

A date to resume advertising has not been determined yet, and Enron is reviewing its options, a spokesman said.

Enron also has sent letters to nearly 15,000 consumers who already had committed to switching, promising that the Enron guarantee of two weeks free electricity after one year will still be valid in January 1999.

AD COPY TO REFLECT DELAY

Edison International, parent of Southern California Edison, pushed back its print and radio advertising by a few weeks and is changing the copy to reflect the delay, said Roxanne Patmor, manager of advertising and customer communications.

Grey Advertising, Los Angeles, handles Edison International.

New copy for Edison ads to be used during the interim period will reassure consumers they'll still get the state-mandated 10% rate decrease Jan. 1 and that service will continue to be reliable, Ms. Patmor said.

Mike Rucker, principal of utility consultancy Second Opinion, said advertisers gearing up for the big push in January may have lost more than just a few months' time.

"If this thing lingers for 90 days or more, especially when you're talking about the consumer market, companies will have to start advertising and marketing all over again," he said.

However, Jonathan Rubin, president of Infocom, said that while the delay will hurt competitors short term, the overall long-term effect may be positive.

"The advertising dollars now being spent aren't going to be as efficiently spent as if the market had opened Jan. 1, but the messages are still going to build the brands of competitors in the market," he said. "In the same way that the telecommunications companies have had to build brands over many years, the same will be true for utility companies."

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