Burger king corp. fired a major salvo in the burger wars this fall: the Big King.
It's a sandwich aimed squarely at McDonald's core Big Mac. BK touted it as bigger and better than the big guy's burger. That was followed this month by the marketer's long-awaited new french fries, a project also aimed squarely at McDonald's.
Burger King, outspent 2 to 1 on advertising by McDonald's, termed the Big King a major success. The media buzz generated by the new burger helped BK recover from a major late-summer sales dip caused by a headline-grabbing outbreak of E. coli bacteria. While there were no cases of the disease surfacing at BK, the chain pulled all the beef from its supply system as a preventative measure.
Big King created new-product news. The 99-cent price tag helped pull burger lovers back into stores. It also helped reinforce BK's continuing turnaround strategy of touting the quality of its food and its value message via creative from Ammirati Puris Lintas, New York. Advertising features popular music, glamor shots of food, and the theme "Get Your Burger's Worth."
Mercedes-benz launched its new M-Class with a bang in September. The M-Class is the marketer's first sport- utility vehicle and part of its most ambitious product rollout ever.
A series of direct mail and survey drops initiated in September 1995 led to a list of 100,000 interested buyers by the time M-Class went on sale.
On Memorial Day weekend, three months prior to M-Class's showroom debut, the vehicle "starred" in Steven Spielberg's "The Lost World: Jurassic Park." The tie-in was part of Mercedes' $8 million U.S. promotional tie-in for the movie.
The marketer hasn't skimped on advertising. In fact, Mercedes ad spending hit a high this year of an estimated $110 million.
M-Class was part of Mercedes' $80 million ad blitz from September through December. Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, created a trio of humorous spots, including one with Ed Sullivan in vintage footage.
Included in the late-year blitz mix was the carmaker's largest retail initiative, dubbed "Fall in love," aimed at attracting more than 1 million customers to Mercedes' dealerships.
In October, Mercedes announced it would produce an additional 7,000 M-Class SUVs, increasing U.S. availability to 40,000. M-Class helped Mercedes meet its target to sell 100,000 vehicles in the U.S. for the first time, a record it reached Nov. 25, topping its previous peak of 99,314 sold in 1986.
Professional women's basketball arrived with authority in the summer of 1997, via the Women's National Basketball Association.
Although the American Basketball League was launched earlier, in the fall of 1996, it lacked the marketing and media muscle of WNBA's big brother, the National Basketball Association.
NBA devoted the bulk of its media resources in the second half of the 1996-97 NBA season to WNBA promotions. Hype climaxed during the playoffs, when the league used its highly rated NBC and Turner Sports telecasts to air a campaign with the tagline, "We got next."
When the WNBA finally launched in mid-June, it already had at least three recognizable stars of the game -- Lisa Leslie, Rebecca Lobo, and Sheryl Swoopes -- thanks to their endorsement deals with Nike, Reebok International and Discover Card, respectively.
Other marketers including Anheuser-Busch, Champion Products, Coca-Cola Co., General Motors Corp., VF Corp.'s Lee Jeans and Sears, Roebuck & Co. signed three-year sponsorship deals, with trust the NBA could deliver a compelling brand of sports entertainment and a platform to market to women. The deals, packaged by NBA Properties, included media time during WNBA telecasts on ESPN, Lifetime and NBC.
The results were upbeat. Attendance at the games averaged 9,669 -- double the projection. TV ratings on NBC (2.0), ESPN (0.9), and Lifetime (0.5) proved respectable. Sales of licensed merchandise exceeded expectations.
Few product introductions in 1997 impacted pop culture like the "Star Wars" film franchise.
George Lucas created and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. distributed a film called "Star Wars" in 1977, and another called "The Empire Strikes Back" in 1981 and yet another called "The Return of the Jedi" in 1983.
But the new films Lucasfilms and Fox issued earlier this year weren't mere re-releases. The movies included newly inserted scenes, technically impossible to create 20 years ago. The revised "Star Wars" trilogy reminded the world of the enduring power of the tales. The three movies generated a combined total of nearly $200 million at the U.S. box office, helping "Star Wars" become the highest-grossing film of all time.
The film franchise also was the biggest movie property in entertainment licensing in 1997. Hasbro and Galoob put up about $1 billion to retain their toy licenses over the next 10 years. PepsiCo raised the bar on movie-based promotional programs with a global push that encompassed its soft drink, snack foods and (former) fast-food businesses.
The multigenerational appeal of the property underscored the powerful, and perhaps permanent, place "Star Wars" occupies in the global pop culture.
SPORTS MAGS FOR WOMEN
Sports magazines for women emerged as the new hot category in 1997. The steam for this was generated by public awareness of the high number of U.S. female athletes winning gold medals at the 1996 Olympics.
In addition, marketing executives now recognize a generation of young women who came of age with Title IX, a law requiring public schools to spend equally on athletic programs for girls and boys.
Conde Nast Publications made the biggest commitment to the category, backing the September launch of Conde Nast Sports For Women with $40 million. Time Inc. produced two test issues of Sports Illustrated Women/Sport in April and September, but that project has been put on hold as Sports Illustrated gears up to defend itself against encroacher ESPN magazine, being launched in early '98.
Outside explored the idea of launching a version of its outdoor title for women. While Publisher Scott Parmalee said the project is still in the planning stages, the company will be going ahead with a women's version in 1998.
The start of the women's sport category, however, can be traced to entrepreneur Polly Perkins launching Sports Traveler in 1995. When Conde Nast announced its plans after meeting with Ms. Perkins and deciding against backing her title, Ms. Perkins filed a lawsuit in July 1996, which is still pending. Sports Traveler ceased publishing late in 1996, and Ms. Perkins is now the president of Petersen Publishing's Sport, a decidedly male title.
Cigars regained popularity this year, in spite of the tumult against cigarettes and the tobacco industry.
In June, cigar marketer Swisher International tried to air cigar ads on cable networks. The commercials were created by its agency, Morgan & Partners, Jacksonville, Fla.
Unlike cigarettes, cigars are not banned from the airwaves by law, but most broadcast and cable TV outlets have policies against cigar advertising. So, permission was denied as TV industry executives voiced concerns about legal and public relations issues.
In August, General Cigar Co. announced plans for a national rollout of its super premium Cohiba. The original Cohiba, a product of Cuba and therefore illegal in the U.S., has long been renowned as Fidel Castro's stogie of choice. The company spent an impressive $3 million in three months to get the word out with an eight-page ad in Cigar Aficionado and a four-page insert in titles such as GQ and The New Yorker. McCaffery, Ratner, Gottlieb & Lane, New York, handles General Cigar.
'N.Y. TIMES' ADDS COLOR
People say they believe that color is un-Timesian. I say only poor color is un-Timesian," declared Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the 46-year-old New York Times publisher.
Mr. Sulzberger was refering to the redesign of the Times that made its debut in September. The new look features daily color along with new sports, arts, food and home sections.
The change required a $750 million investment, 10 years of planning and building two new printing plants. But it moved the Times into the next century.
The new printing plants also altered news deadlines to allow publication of later sports scores and breaking news.
The switch to color capability was driven by a need to capture more national and retail advertising. But the goal of the redesign was to maintain its brand image as one of the most trusted sources of information.
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., in July abandoned 10-year-old Joe Camel, declaring the move a good faith effort to show a commitment to the tobacco settlement reached with the U.S. attorneys general.
The departure of cartoonish Joe, however, failed to end the controversy. Reynolds said Joe's departure was voluntary, but continues to fight Federal Trade Commission charges that Joe was purposely aimed at those under 18.
The replacement campaigns from Mezzina/Brown, New York, for Camel and Camel Light have been criticized almost as severely. Both campaigns drew immediate charges from critics, including former Food & Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler, that Reynolds was now trying to encourage those 18 to 21 to smoke.
Despite the political controversy, Camel continued to show share growth and is the biggest success story for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco.
Nutraceuticals, foods with natural or fortified healthful properties, became the decisive food trend of 1997 -- and beyond.
Most of the major marketers are known to have dabbled in nutraceuticals or are planning to get into the burgeoning category.
Armed with clinical trials, Mars Inc. launched V02Max, a supercharged energy bar. Campbell Soup Co. tested Intelligent Quisine, a three-times-a-day series of sodium- and fat-controlled meals aimed at heart and blood pressure patients. Kellogg Co. created a Functional Foods division that's said to be close to launching its first product.
Meanwhile, Nabisco Biscuit Co. took an old formula -- gelatin -- and recast it in a new light with Knox NutraJoint. The product is touted to those 55 and older as a nutritional supplement for strengthening joints.
Late in the year, Mars -- already testing a calcium-fortified rice under the Uncle Ben's name -- announced plans to market a line of organic foods called Seeds of Change.
A new series on Walt Disney Co.'s ABC, produced by News Corp.'s Fox Television, "Nothing Sacred," drew the ire of a group heretofore little known by Madison Ave.: the Catholic League for Religious & Civil Rights.
The series is about a Catholic priest who wrestles with modern problems and has included controversial topics such as abortion. The Catholic League has been threatening to boycott advertisers that sponsored the show since before it hit the airwaves.
While boycotts of TV advertisers by various special-interest groups have been threatened before, most have not been successful. However, for different stated reasons, a number of marketers who have bought time on "Nothing Sacred" have said they will no longer sponsor the show.
ABC is standing behind the low-rated series, however, and next month moves it from its deadly Thursday night time slot -- against NBC's popular lineup -- to