U.K. advertisers pull ads after Princess' death

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LONDON -- The dramatic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car accident in Paris August 31 forced advertisers to react swiftly, pulling campaigns at the last minute as a mark of respect or because they were deemed inappropriate.

Daimler-Benz subsidiary Mercedes-Benz U.K., maker of the car in which the Princess was traveling, took the decision early on the morning of Aug. 31 to suspend all its advertising and database marketing until further notice.

However, it was not possible to prevent transmission of its TV commercial, the first Mercedes work from independent London shop Partners BBDH, on some minor stations, which went onto "automatic pilot" broadcasting on Aug. 31, said Doug Wallace, press relations manager for cars. Also, print ads in newspaper supplements for the week-end of Sept. 6-7 have lead times too long to be able to alter. "We've canceled everything else we could conceivably get to," he said. The campaign will not need to be adapted in the light of the Princess' death, he added.

Daimler-Benz said the U.K. was the only country in which marketing activity had been put on hold and that the decision had been made at local level. "We are still convinced that [Mercedes] is one of the safest cars," said Birgit Zaiser, cars press officer at the Stuttgart headquarters. "Mercedes-Benz people in England are quite shocked and just want to show a sign of respect."

The U.K.'s national commercial TV networks, ITV, Channel Four and Channel Five, put into immediate action on Aug. 31 an emergency copy clearance procedure to weed out ads deemed unacceptable in the circumstances and those which should be placed away from news programs for at least a week until after the funeral Sept. 6.

Commercials for cars featuring speed or screeching tires have been pulled, as have those for health insurance and motor insurance. Broadcasters asked alcohol brands to shift ads at least one hour away from the news or programs featuring the Princess, given that the driver of her car was found to have been drunk driving.

Most advertisers made the first move, however, offering to halt or reschedule advertising without being asked, sales house executives said. "They just don't want their brands appearing in an insensitive place and it's not in our interest to offend viewers," said a spokeswoman for Laser, the sales house responsible for five ITV regions.

Cuts from this week's schedules include: a new campaign for VW, to be replaced by another version next week; a commercial for financial services firm Allied Dunbar that featured the Grim Reaper; an ad for J.N. Nichols' carbonated drink Vimto, judged to be "just too happy"; a Renault Clio commercial featuring couples on illicit romantic trips in France; Eurostar's radio ads for trips to Paris and chocolate- maker Cadbury's strapline, "The nation's favorite," a term that has been used to describe the Princess.

All U.K. terrestrial commercial broadcasters are slashing total advertising airtime this week. ITV is expected to drop more than 50% of its scheduled commercial minutage. But the Independent Television Commission has said minutage will be paid back eventually. In normal times, seven minutes in each hour can be allocated to advertising, averaged across the day, with a maximum of 7.5 minutes in any one hour.

"We want to clear the problem and worry about what goes on [with compensation] after that," said Andy Barnes, sales and marketing director for Channel Four. "There are some things which transcend competitive advantage and this is one of them."

Mass-market tabloid newspapers, whose hounding of the Princess and use of freelance paparazzi photographers have met with stinging public criticism, ironically enjoyed sales increases of 25%- 30% last Monday as they splashed photographs of Diana across the majority of their pages. The Sun, the U.K.'s biggest selling daily newspaper, published by Rupert Murdoch's News International, was reported by The Financial Times to have sold more than a million extra copies on that day. The clamor for news and pictures of the Princess came despite some talk of a consumer boycott of the tabloids. The Princess died being chased at high speed by paparazzi photographers.

Advertisers were not expected to withdraw campaigns from the tabloid press unless papers followed the German Bild Zeitung in printing pictures currently being hawked around the world of the car crash moments after it happened and while broken bodies were visible in the car. "It would incense a lot of people and we wouldn't be keen to be seen in a publication that went beyond the pale," said Nigel Brotherton, communications manager for VW in the U.K.

Bild, published by Axel Springer Verlag of Hamburg, printed 6.8 million copies of the Monday edition that carried that photo, some 1.2 million more than its print-run of the previous Friday.

However, advertisers will be scrutinizing tabloid behavior more closely from now on and declare themselves more ready to act should the papers take sensationalism too far. "We have a brand name we want to protect and we have to be careful where we are seen to be placing our ads," said vw'S Brotherton. VW would remove certain papers from its media schedule "should we feel that publications are acting irresponsibly and consistently doing that," he said. "We are more sensitive [to that] today than we were [before the accident]."

The Princess' death is certainly likely to damage long-term sales of tabloid newspapers in the U.K., where previously Diana was a page one fixture, believes Simon Lloyd, chairman of Optimedia International, Publicis' media buying operation. "It's pretty conceivable that after the funeral and drama of these few days, and assuming nothing else happens, that the total tabloid market could see a drop over the next quarter of over 5% as people who buy an additional paper because of a particular story no longer do so," he said. "There can't have ever been a personality to attract such attention in this media- hungry age, apart from perhaps Jackie Onassis. We must assume that at some point the stories about [Diana] will have to stop."

If that happens, advertisers may start diverting funds elsewhere. If the drop was "significantly greater than 5%," VW's media budget would migrate from the tabloid press, Brotherton said.

Television programming schedules have also been adjusted this week. ITV replaced "Lethal Weapon III" with "Field of Dreams", for example. Channel Four canceled two documentaries, "Trauma" and "Coma", about crash victims and was considering pulling hospital drama "ER" at press time.

In the U.S., Cincinnati-based grocery chain Kroger Co. will not display at any of its stores any tabloid editions that include photographs of victims at the scene. A Kroger spokesperson said this applies only to such photographs and not to other sensitive content.

Copyright September 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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