TRUCKING GROUP FIGHTS NEGATIVE IMAGE VIA ADS: ATA ALSO WORKS TO GET ADS PULLED IF THEY SHOW VEHICLES IN WRONG LIGHT

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The American Trucking Association is driving head-on into a controversy over how trucks are portrayed in advertising.

ATA will spend $1 million on a print campaign that will break this week and run in national publications through March, via Richards Group, Dallas. It's currently seeking member funding to move the ads into other media next year, including national TV. To do that would take a budget of at least $5 million.

ATA's ads stress the "safety and essentiality" of trucking, a spokesman said, with one showing trucks bringing aid to North Carolina flood victims.

The group also said its members are becoming increasingly active in protesting ads that portray them negatively.

"Advertising agencies are playing on the perceived fear of trucks," said Regina Blakely, senior VP. "The ATA members respond very aggressively when they see these ads."

Ms. Blakely said ATA requested that ads from accounting firm KPMG Peat Marwick and Shell Oil Co. be pulled. She said the group is looking into two recent General Motors Corp. ads -- one for Chevrolet Malibu, one for the Saturn S Class sedan -- that show trucks in a bad light.

A KPMG Peat Marwick spokesman said the print ad ATA disliked had only been scheduled to run once. A spokesman for Shell said its ads were safety-oriented and "not designed to cast aspersions on the trucking industry," adding the print ads were to run for 30 days and were almost done when ATA called, so Shell let the remaining ads run.

The Saturn ad, "Intersection," features a driver recalling how his car's safety features protected him when his Saturn collided with a semi that had run a red light.

"We're looking into it," she said. "If the ad is based on reality, we're not going to challenge it."

FIRST ADS SINCE '60S

Ms. Blakely said the advertising is the first for ATA since the 1960s, when it ran frequent magazine ads stressing the essential services trucks provide.

She said that if members approve a broader campaign, ATA is likely to hire an agency of record.

"I think that is something that we would want to do, because the whole theory is to have continuity," she said. "We want to broaden out to radio and TV and also the Net.

"The Internet is a great place, not only for advertising but to use to get

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