L'OREAL PROPELS UNIQUE ISRAELI PSAS

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JERUSALEM-She's 4 years old and precocious. Her name is Liron, and she's giving very serious advice: "When you drive, don't drink. It blurs the vision."

Liron and other children like her are becoming familiar faces on Israeli TV, as part of a highway safety campaign with an unusual pedigree.

It's the first major public awareness campaign ever funded by a multinational marketer in Israel.

And the company behind the effort is L'Oreal. Since the late '80s, the French cosmetics giant has been embroiled in allegations that it was complying with the Arab League boycott of Israel, charges the company vigorously denies.

If they comply with the boycott, international companies trading with Arab League countries are forbidden from doing business in and with Israel.

L'Oreal said it gets involved in humanitarian causes wherever it does business. Road safety was chosen as a cause because of the high mortality rate of Israeli children in traffic accidents, the company said.

Although a L'Oreal spokesman in France could not cite a similar program, he said the company distributes millions of dollars annually, generally as charitable contributions or for sponsorships.

L'Oreal is spending $1 million on the campaign, and is identified at the end of the spots. And an estimated $2 million is being donated in free space, time and services.

The public service announcements began running in August, with 250 separate spots expected to run through yearend.

"It's a way to repair their tarnished image now that they've come back into Israel," said Hanan Sher, a business and economics editor.

L'Oreal re-entered Israel as an investor in May by buying a 30% share in Interbeauty, a local cosmetics manufacturer and independent L'Oreal distributor. The marketer hadn't had an ownership interest in the country since the 1989 closure of a Helena Rubinstein plant.

Interbeauty Chairman Gad Propper said the decision to run the campaign was made soon after the May investment.

"L'Oreal wants to present a positive corporate image," said Moshe Theumim, president of Interbeauty shop Gitam Image Promotion Systems, Tel Aviv, which is donating services for the campaign.

Industry figures indicate L'Oreal products hold about 20% of the $300 million cosmetics and toiletries market.

The public service campaign has attracted more attention here than L'Oreal's $5 million in product advertising.

It started in July with a spot asking children to phone in their own experiences about road accidents and give safety tips.

After receiving more than 25,000 responses, Gitam has been filming four spots a day.

Each 25- or 30-second spot begins with a young girl bowling. As the ball picks up speed, a car is heard accelerating. When the ball hits the pins, the sound becomes breaking glass and grinding metal.

The scene shifts to a child, telling his or her story. One boy says his mother's accident on a wet road could have been avoided if both drivers had been driving more slowly.

All close with a shot of the green pedestrian walk symbol and the slogan "The world belongs to the careful" and the L'Oreal name.

More than 600 radio spots and 350 outdoor boards featuring the "walk" symbol are planned.

Whether the campaign accomplishes its goal is a matter of opinion.

"This is a fantastic campaign," said Philippe Hlavin, deputy managing director of local cosmetics manufacturer and exporter Hlavin. "But I don't think consumers are aware enough to discern [L'Oreal's] contribution."

Judith Sullivan in Paris contributed to this story.

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