SEIKO SHOWS THE WAY TO COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO IT

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It starts in the wee hours with a suddenly awakening rooster, its cockscomb popping from a hay-strewn roost. Then, to a whimsical woodwind bleat, the rooster steps out. Through the chicken coop. Past the pigpen. Through the barnyard and along a split-rail fence where a metallic object gleams in the last rays of moonlight.

It's a wristwatch, nailed to a post. As the second hand marks 5:56 sharp, the rooster crows. Cock-a-doodle-doo!

"Seiko," says the voice-over. "Built for life."

Seiko? Are they still around?

Oh, but of course they are. I think I see their watches on sale in those catalog-discounter circulars stuffed in the Sunday paper. Kind of sad, but, you might say, it was only a matter of time.

Time was, of course, when Seiko Corp. of America's marketing accomplishments were remarkable. Even phenomenal. By mass producing quartz movements and embedding them in sophisticated-looking cases, it was able to virtually own the midrange segment in the 1970s and early '80s. Fine jewelry they weren't, but neither were they Timexes you bought out of plastic display cylinders in drugstores. Seikos were as accurate as the expensive mainspring models, and, at about $150, much more affordable-but expensive enough to retain a cachet of quality.

In other words, a modest luxury.

"Someday," predicted the ad theme from AC&R, New York, "all watches will be made this way."

The good thing about that slogan was its ring of truth. Seiko sold itself as cutting-edge technology destined to render all other timepieces obsolete. Swiss movements, long synonymous with quality and precision, would be anachron-ometers. And consumers believed it. Thus did Seiko win fully 50% of the midprice timepiece market.

The bad thing about the slogan, however, was its ring of truth. Turns out, a couple of decades later, nearly all watches are made that way. Seiko's still out there with incredibly accurate $150 quartz watches, but suddenly the marketplace is flooded with a half-dozen brands of incredibly accurate $40 quartz watches. Where once there were a handful of junky Timexes dominating a clearly defined low end, now there are far more than a handful of far less junky Timex styles, plus hundreds of other designs from Swatch, Guess, Fossil and you name it. Meanwhile, Citizen has vastly outmarketed Seiko in the midrange segment, with sales pouring in not by quartz but by gallons.

Thus has Seiko's once-phenomenal growth become a long flat line, and thus, after 25 years with AC&R, did Seiko decide it was time for a change. Now along comes DDB Needham Worldwide, trying to stem the advance of the competition.

And it is off to an extremely charming start. The cock-a-doodle-doo spot works like a sort of shaggy-chicken joke. You know the payoff will turn somehow on poultry reveille, but the tension builds as you wait to see precisely how. Every jerky bird step increases the anticipation until-Ha! He's looking at a watch! Pretty darn cute. Not vastly meaningful, but definitely cute.

While the slogan intimates the quality and durability separating Seiko from its low-price rivals, the spot itself is content to entertainingly reinvigorate the semiprestigious brand name. Low on copy points, high on personality-an approach one might consider an indulgence for an endangered prestige brand.

I would say a modest luxury.

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