FORUM;SIDEBARS

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Classroom rumbles: And the winner in our Most Irrelevant Study of the Year is: Consumers Union-for its "Captive Kids: A Report on Commercial Pressures on Kids at Schools."

Does anyone still think our public schools are suffering from underfunding, understaffing, undertraining and over-unionization (leading to unenlightened contracts)? Well, CU is "alarmed" about the real problem: advertisers that continually slip commercials into the educational materials and videos they donate to schools. Unfortunately for the CU study, it arrived along with the spring issue of City Journal and its devastating analysis by Sol Stern of the New York City teachers' contract, plus news reports from other cities about union opposition to innovative school administrators.

While CU focuses on commercialism, community leaders still ask the private sector-including corporate America-to do even more to help our schools. Ironically, on the heels of the CU report New York City's Board of Education turned to advertising. It agreed to allow ads on school buses and asked that billboards be installed throughout the school system to raise money. And the New York State Legislature took steps to lift its five-year ban against the Channel One TV news show Chris Whittle created for schools. Ergo, CU still hasn't figured out that advertising is not the enemy.

Maurice's pieces: Having called in a few chits from old friends to give his new M & C Saatchi ad agency (privately held, if you please) a proper start in life, and sustain his extravagant lifestyle, Maurice Saatchi must also be pleased to find himself, PR-wise, clearly ahead of the older Saatchi organization that ousted him. Maurice's PR barrage included lengthy profiles in Conde Nast's The New Yorker (May 15) and Vanity Fair (June). The warmed-over servings of Mauricoise sauce highlighted the managerial shortcomings of this flawed, ersatz adman, but the VF piece by Fiammetta Rocco gave us the details on how Maurice's $10,000 investment in Adidas, made at the suggestion of his former friend Robert Louis-Dreyfus, turned into $38 million within two years. Clearly, he's wasting his time (and others' money) in the agency business. Or is he? Ms. Rocco also disclosed that it was Adman Maurice "who stood at the center of his company's every victory," including the "hugely successful `Tastes great, less filling' campaign for Miller Lite." Huh? Will the next magazine piece disclose that the "1984" Macintosh commercial was another Maurice masterpiece?

MediaMeanderings: The "f-word's" blitz through media will be picking up the pace in October. That's when Random House issues Jesse Sheidlower's 224-pages of "The F-Word." He traces the word's literary trail over five centuries. The publisher's press kit promises: "Publicity: F-guaranteed."

Tobacco comeback: As we await the Philip Morris-ABC "nicotine spiking" libel trial in October (unless they do a Saatchi and settle out of court), I notice that former PM Chairman Mike Miles' daring brand pricing strategy still gets the media brushoff-probably because it involves the politically incorrect Marlboro cigarettes. The Fortune 500 issue (May 15) included a "Hot Brand Buys" salute to Tide, Campbell Soup, Duracell and Gillette. But not Marlboro. Yet Fortune goes on to note that only one company, Philip Morris, has averaged an annual shareholders' return-on-investment of 20% over the 40 years it has kept its "500" scorecard. Although brand-builder Mike Miles felt Wall Street's heat when he instituted a 40 (cents)-per-pack price cut on "Marlboro Friday," April 2, 1993, the fact is that he acted with unprecedented boldness because the market share of his company's key brand had fallen from 24.4% to 21.5% in about a year, thanks to an artificially high Marlboro retail price that benefited discount brands. Of course, Wall Street and news media could only focus on PM's one-day stock value (paper) loss of $13.4 billion. But all Mike Miles' decision did-before he left PM last year-was a) eliminate discount brand competition, b) force rival RJR Tobacco to cut prices when it couldn't afford to do so, and c) with increased promotional support, see Marlboro rebound to a record 28% share (and climbing). But the story isn't over. Last month, PM (and RJR) raised cigarette prices again. Anyhow, while his successors at PM await their next (post-filter fiasco) chance to raise Marlboro prices (thus raising profits while re-energizing the discount brands), last we heard Mike Miles, brand defender extraordinaire, was still out of work.

Book nook: Want to get a book published? No sweat. Just tell us (again and again) how advertising drains our culture of its values and meaning. Another example is "The Sponsored Life" (Temple U. Press, $16.95), a collection of ad columns by the Village Voice's Leslie Savan. Likening advertising to "a vampire or a virus" that "infects just about every organ of society," she states, "All advertising lies, but there are little lies and .... big lies." However, she does give the industry's Partnership for a Drug-Free America campaign a "semi-okay" salute. The problem, she writes, is that "advertising culture" encourages "the compulsive taking of something," and that's "one of the very reasons drugs are a problem." Advertising has "helped displace the kind of culture that could conceivably manage drugs." Displace? Isn't advertising woven into our culture? What kind of culture has advertising eliminated? And when did we possess it? What nation (drug-free) should we strive to emulate? Don't look for answers in this book.

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