MADISON AVENUE VISITS DREAM LAND:TOYOTA, CITIBANK ARE AMONG THOSE OFFERING FANTASY ADS TO CONSUMERS SEEKING ESCAPE

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Move over, Maidenform.

Advertisers and their agencies are creating new dreams, hoping to help consumers escape from the doldrums of the '90s.

Marketers as diverse as Toyota Motor Sales USA, Citibank, The Gap and British Airways are among those using "dream" themes in their 1996 campaigns. And dream-theme advertising is right for the times, say consumer-mood trackers.

"Everything real seems pretty dismal," said Gerald Celente, director of the Trends Research Institute. "So the dream is a hope of a better tomorrow."

YOUR RAV4 DREAM

Toyota depicts a dream in a new campaign for the RAV4, its mini-sport-utility vehicle. One print ad, created by Saatchi & Saatchi/Pacific, Torrance, Calif., reads: "This is Jeremy Wolff's RAV4 dream. What will yours be?"

"This product can be whatever you want it to be," said Irv Miller, Toyota's corporate advertising manager. "If we try to hit markets and target advertising, there's a chance we're going to miss a significant part of the market."

Unilever's Van den Bergh Foods is using a "daydream" with romance-novel hunk Fabio in TV spots for its I Can't Believe It's Not Butter margarine.

A new commercial from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York, features a sculptress whose work comes to life as Fabio.

Daydream ads featuring Fabio were originally used to launch I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray, and that campaign helped increase sales for the overall brand about 17%, the company said.

In the land where dreams often come true-California-Citibank is spending $5 million on a campaign tagged "The Citi of your dreams."

Citibank says the advertising, created by FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York, has helped increase new checking accounts and loan applications by 50%.

It plans to expand the campaign to six other states next month.

DREAMS MAKE SCENTS

Dreams are significant in the ad efforts of those marketing fragrances, including The Gap and Avon Products.

The Gap recently introduced a new scent called Dreams, described as "youthful, elegant and fresh," with a combination of "white freesia, orange flower and pure cloud."

And Avon, in conjunction with its Olympic sponsorship, will offer an "Achieve the Dream" sweepstakes to 15 million customers and 10 million prospects. The sweepstakes is part of Avon's return to sports sponsorships.

Allison Cohen, president of PeopleTalk, a qualitative market research company, is working with an undisclosed fragrance marketer that has decided to use the dream concept.

SOMETHING DIFFERENT

"I was not surprised at all when dreams was the winning concept," Ms. Cohen said. "Dreams are a huge catchall that women can personalize in the direction that would fulfill them most at the moment."

Ms. Cohen said that about 80% of the women she talked to are sick of sex in advertising, and the idea of dreams sounded new.

Dreams "were more of a jumping-off point for the consumer rather than something concrete and discrete that a marketer was serving up," she said.

However, Ms. Cohen said some advertising, such as the British Airways spot from M&C Saatchi Agency, London, hasn't used dreams effectively.

The British Airways "ad was so over the top and went on for so long you had no idea what it was about," she said.

With big companies like AT&T laying off thousands of workers and this being an election year featuring negative ads, consumers are seeking escape.

Historically, when the world has been "bad," consumers have retreated to dreams, said Myra Stark, senior VP-director of knowledge management and consumer insights at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York.

SKEPTICAL CONSUMERS

"Consumer skepticism is at an all-time high," Ms. Stark said. "I think whenever you get a period in culture where the outside world is scary and bleak and things are very tough economically, people tend to retreat into dreams."

For example, the glamorous Hollywood musicals became popular during the Great Depression.

"The same dynamic is happening now," Ms. Stark said, "whether the advertiser is conscious of it or not."

Alice Z. Cuneo and Bradley Johnson contributed to this story.

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