OFFICE SUPPLY CHAIN ADS HEAD BACK TO SCHOOL: OFFICE MAX, STAPLES, OFFICE DEPOT USE SPOTS TOUTING STUDENT SUPPLIES

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The three major office-supply chains are jumping on the back-to-school bandwagon with advertising campaigns.

Office Max again trots out its stick-man character "Max," while Staples and Office Depot-fresh from their failed attempt to merge-also are breaking flights of ads.

In Office Max's TV campaign, the wisecracking "Max" character is joined in one spot by actor Ben Stein, and in another by talk show host Regis Philbin. In both humorous spots, Max plays an office efficiency expert.

"We're moving the character to the next level" by having him banter one-on-one with the celebs, said an executive involved with the Office Max effort.

BREAKING TODAY

The commercial with Mr. Stein breaks today and the Philbin spot on Sept. 7. A third ad, scheduled to hit closer to the holiday season, will feature the animated character superimposed into footage from a classic movie. Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., handles.

The Office Max ads debut as Office Depot and Staples refocus their efforts following a failed merger.

PARENT-CHILD INTERACTION

Staples will continue using parent-child interplay in "The Bag," a new spot from agency Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York, that shows the mixed emotions of kids returning to school.

As a mother tries to convince her three children how much fun school will be, the kids become increasingly excited. The camera then cuts to show supplies flying one by one from the bag that mom left on the car roof.

A second commercial, a co-op effort with Texas Instruments, features a high-school calculus class using the marketer's calculators, said Phyllis Wasserman, Staples VP-advertising.

Ms. Wasserman, who resigns this week for personal reasons, is being replaced by Dwight Garland, who becomes VP-retail advertising and broadcast creative, and Margaret DiGregorio, who becomes VP-contract and commercial advertising, from managers.

The effort breaks Aug. 16 in selected markets, and rolls out nationally Aug. 24 on NBC's NFL broadcast, the only national broadcast outlet.

Staples also will use free-standing inserts and newspaper ads, produced in-house.

NFL COACH PROMO

In addition, Staples will offer "Coach of the Week," a promotion with the National Football League in which each week a league coach is selected and a school in that team's city receives $5,000 in supplies from Staples and a post-season visit from the coach.

Office Depot will dust off back-to-school advertising from former longtime agency Gold Coast Advertising Associates, Miami, to run in spot markets, a spokesman for the retailer said.

ALL GAINING SHARE

Office Depot, Staples and Office Max-the top three office supply retailers, respectively-all have been stepping up efforts and gaining share in their competitive category.

In 1995, the most recent year for which figures are available, the three accounted for a 20.3% share of the $31.6 billion office-supply category (not including furniture), according to the Business Products Industry Association.

In 1994, the three companies had 18.2% of the category.

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