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The surest way to anger a banker is to make light of Y2K. Just ask the folks at Polaroid and Kia.

In a recent Polaroid commercial from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, a panicking young man rushes to an ATM to keep tabs on his bank balance as the millennium rollover occurs. To his delight, the Y2K bug causes his checking account to balloon. For proof of the unexpected fortune, he snaps pictures of the screen, using a Popshots disposable camera.

Funny? At the American Bankers Association, no one was saying cheese. "The banking industry has worked hard to ensure the continued safety and integrity of our networks and our data in the year 2000," says ABA spokeswoman Charlotte Birch. "A lot of our members were concerned that the Polaroid commercial did not foster the public's trust in the banking system."

It was the second time this year that bankers protested a spot with a Y2K reference. Some six weeks before the June Polaroid flap, the ABA's 6,000-plus members saw red over Goldberg Moser O'Neill's Kia commercial -- the one that shows a bank run just prior to January 1, with a chipper Kia spokesman trying to break up the crowd by explaining that Y2K simply stands for "Yes 2 Kia."

"Your ad sends precisely the wrong message to the public about the safety of their money during the calendar change," the ABA wrote in a stern letter to Kia Motors president/CEO Byung Mo Ahn. "We urge you to withdraw this advertisement."

Kia's response: lighten up. "Give the American people credit. They get the joke," Ahn shot back. "We will not 'withdraw this advertisement,' just as I have no intention of withdrawing my money from an American bank. There's no reason to do either."

Polaroid, on the other hand, not only took the ABA's complaint to heart, it donned kneepads by immediately agreeing to pull the offending Goodby spot. In an apologetic letter to the bankers, Gary DiCamillo, Polaroid's chairman and CEO, explained that no slight had been intended, and that "we do not want to contribute to the anxieties surrounding [the Y2K] issue."

What does Goodby's co-chairman and co-CD Rich Silverstein think of his client's decision? He is reluctant to talk, but finally opines that he's not sure why this is such a sensitive issue to bankers. "I mean, it is, but it really shouldn't be. The public awareness of the Y2K bug is something that goes on in the culture, it's current. No disrespect, but I feel that for advertising to play off that is legitimate."

So Polaroid escaped the fray with its banking relations intact, but its judgment and backbone called into question. The company received a "wussie award" from a humorous Y2K-related Web site run by the Ken Orr Institute, a Kansas-based IT consulting firm (www.duh-2000.com). The thin-skinned bankers were taken to task, too. "Banks must put some kind of chemical dust in their ventilation systems to make the people who work there dull and humorless," the site notes. "And it sort of makes sense: you probably don't want witty, clever and creative people around

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