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TORONTO -- A recent TV ad produced for Unilever Canada to promote its Imperial Margarine has proved to be too disturbing to many viewers and has been pulled from the air. The spot, created by Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Toronto, shows a potato, upset by an empty tub of margarine, jumping off a microwave and impaling itself on a fork while the song, "All Out of Love" by Air Supply plays in the background.

Several hundred consumers wrote to Unilever complaining that the ad trivialized suicide.

"We were trying to highlight the rich, creamy taste of Imperial by demonstrating, in a Romeo and Juliet fashion, how sad the food felt based upon the fact the Imperial was all gone and therefore food is nothing without it," said Mike Welling, VP-brand development for foods at Uni-lever.

After the spot appeared on March 5, Unilever received more than 200 complaints and quickly pulled the ad.

"Going into the campaign, we were well aware that this kind of subject could be perceived negatively. However, in all the testing we were assured it was not going to be a major issue," says Mr. Welling. "Obviously, enough people took exception to it, which caused us to pause and reflect."

"We spent time researching the idea to make sure it's seen in much the same light as car-toons today, using an inanimate object like a potato. If you think about it, a potato is al-ready dead and you're getting ready to cook it," says Mr. Welling.

There was one high note. The complaints re-ceived came primarily to Unilever via its Web address, which featured in the spot. In fact, it was the first time Unilever had shown its Web address in a TV spot. "It's a good indicator interactive TV has a future," says Mr. Welling.

Copyright March 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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