STAND BY YOUR ADS: AD TAX SEASON

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When holiday inn World-wide took its transsexual "Bob Johnson" TV spot out of the ad game after a single airing on the Super Bowl, the hotel chain, like other advertisers before it, made the safe choice. But it was the wrong choice, as timidness prevailed.

In this time of extreme political correctness, when liberals and conservatives are equally intolerant and there's a special-interest group for everyone, it's almost impossible not to outrage someone. Just ask IBM Corp. Last month, IBM pulled and had agency Ogilvy & Mather re-edit a TV commercial whose storyline included a young girl rescuing a great horned owl. Or ask Haggar Clothing, which last fall junked a spot from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners because firefighter groups complained the plot line irresponsibly showed a man entering a burning building . . . to save his Haggar pants. We don't advocate ads depicting unsafe practices, but how about a little license for entertainment value? Maybe more to the point: Ask Pizza Hut, which had to bench Rush Limbaugh when he helped introduce its Stuffed Crust pizza. Politics? In the same campaign, a spot featuring Donald Trump escaped public censure.

The industry would seem to have come a long way since the days when Kayser-Roth Corp. yanked an ad for men's socks because one letter writer objected to the sight of a dog sitting next to his master. But has it really? Holiday Inn's commercial pre-tested positively with consumers, and its franchisees liked it by a margin of 5 to 1. Yet, after one airing, some critical media coverage and just 15 negative phone calls, including several from the Southern Baptist Convention's Home Mission, it's history. Most agreed it was right on strategy, calling attention to a full campaign for the chain's huge renovation program, so why? This commercial wasn't, after all, like those TV spots for which Calvin Klein ran smack into the U.S. Justice Department-and us-because of alleged depiction of child pornography.

It's true major corporations dread controversy, but it's just as true that you can't please everyone. Trying to do so will muddy any message, and only serve to encourage other censorious attacks. Advertising with nothing left to say but the dull and safely predictable is a hard way to sell anything.

Ad tax season

From the congress in Washington to the 50 states, legislatures are starting new sessions. When that happens, be on guard, for it's tax time again.

In the states, this has meant periodic efforts to apply state sales or use taxes to the price of advertising services that businesses buy.

In Washingtion, the fear is members of Congress will bite at the idea that allowing full federal tax deductibility for advertising costs somehow is "corporate welfare."

A variation on this theme is that some portion of a company's annual ad expense should be amortized over a period of years, rather than deducted in the year it is incurred, to reflect the longer-term value of advertising. In other words, treat advertising like some form of office furniture and give it a depreciation schedule.

Major ad association executives are rightly concerned, as they indicated in these pages last week. These tax ideas may seem to defy logic to business people who know the critical role advertising plays in stimulating sales and economic growth. But logic can work differently for legislators, where the "logical" idea is to tax businesses that don't defend themselves.

In tax season, the wise ad person, and ad organization, is ready to act-and quickly-whenever these ideas pop up.

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