Ad Revisionism

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As we all know, advertisers have been feverishly reworking ad campaigns that just don't make sense, or are just plain offensive following the events of Sept. 11 and the subsequent bombing of Afghanistan. Adages came across a few offenders that cry out for mention. Ian Schrager, who publicizes his hotel chain by mass mailing clever items, put the kibosh on a spoof coloring book called "The Bush Twins" that featured George Bush's twin daughters Jenna and Barbara. According to Mr. Schrager's publicist, the pair were likened to party siblings Nicky and Paris Hilton. The book promised colorable and compromising poses.

The revolution will not be advertised

Also pulled, or rather, tweaked: a high-profile J.D. Edwards print campaign that challenged Wall Street to "Designate yourself executive freedom fighter" and featured executives shouldering doomsday placards saying "Collaborate or die." The slogan was replaced by a tame "Collaborate and thrive." The Internet economy nearly rewrote the language of marketing by co-opting bold slogans and symbols that were the lingua franca of revolutionaries. Now that trend seems to be going the way of the Berlin Wall.

Yet another blow to "revolution" marketing: Abercrombie & Fitch allegedly dropped its catalog this year because it featured models wearing combat or "terrorist chic" outfits. The photographer was Bruce Weber. He did not return phone calls at press time, but Kalle Lasn, editor in chief of the magazine of social criticism, Adbusters, did. "Over the last few years advertising has become too edgy for its own good," Kalle says. "To their own delight, advertisers have broken all the unwritten rules and values of many Americans and most people in the rest of the world as well. And I think now in this post-ironic age people are going to say `that's enough' to all this excess."

Flying the flag

Easy for Adbusters to say. The magazine claims that it is pro-advertising but anti-product advertising. "We are into social marketing here," Kalle says, who predicts advertising for causes such as anti-tobacco and pro-life campaigns will increase. Meanwhile, on the rise post Sept. 11 (or "S-11" as Kalle refers to it) are sales of Adbusters' corporate America flag. This summer the magazine created 500 flags that resemble Old Glory, but in place of a field of stars there is a sea of corporate logos. Demand was so great they pumped out 3,000 more. After Sept. 11, sales dropped. "We thought this was the end of the corporate America flag," says Kalle. Adbusters asked visitors to its Web site whether the flag was offensive.

According to Kalle, 3 to 1 said no. Since then, sales have skyrocketed. "We're selling about 15 to 20 flags a day," Kalle said.

Mother of invention

How desperate are these times? Mother Jones, the magazine with a principled left-wing reputation partially financed by a non-profit foundation, has been reduced to taking a spread from a big oil company, a first. The ad is from BP's "responsibility beyond petroleum" campaign in which the multinational oil giant promotes its alternative energy businesses. The ad appears in the December issue, which curiously features "Fish Farm Fiasco" as its cover story and no sign of reporting about Sept. 11 and its aftermath. "We put the paper to bed before Sept. 11," says Publisher Jay Harris, apologetically. As for the big oil ad: "We're proud to have it in our pages," Jay says. The money probably isn't too bad either.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo

Pump Texas crude to rlinnett@crain.com

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