I KNOW RHINO HAS AD POWER

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Adages can understand the bull for Merrill Lynch and the lion for Dreyfus, but what's with all the rhinoceri in ads? Insurer St. Paul Cos.' biggest-ever, $20 mil campaign stars the horned behemoths, and Philip Morris' Merit Ultra Lights is running an ad, tagged "Think light," where a rhinoceros is literally treading on thin ice (a metaphor for cigarette advertising?). Exec Creative Dir. George Halvorson at St. Paul agency Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis, says the TV work was shot in Africa's Serengeti with a trained rhino, which followed its trainer around like a dog. But in the print ad, with a little girl caressing a rhino, the beast was stuffed and the background was northern Calif. Halvorson says a rhino "created visual metaphors to illustrate the brand's core values of trust and integrity." Merit agency Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, wouldn't reveal its rhino rationale, but it's CME that may be the real expert in the rhino pitch parade. Earlier this year it introduced a rhino as a new spokescreature for Hostess (AA, Aug. 9).

Ford reFocuses: 'Live' to be livelier

Responding to criticism that its live commercials for the new Focus lack spontaneity, including from Ad Age's Bob Garfield (AA, Sept. 13), Ford Motor Co. says it has plans to pep them up. Ford has run 20 live, but scripted, spots from J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, featuring comedian Annabelle Gurwitch. At a news briefing, Jan Klug, head of marketing communications for the Ford Division, said Gurwitch can't ad-lib because TV networks require script approval 24 hours in advance: "They're pretty nibby-nosed about safety and things like that," Klug said, but "At least we're getting some print" coverage. Ford recently broke non-live spots for the subcompact.

Good, clean(?) fun at car wash

Fox's season premiere of "Ally McBeal" last week showed what can happen when you have hanky-panky in a car wash. The title character had sex with a stranger right in the car wash. Later, during a commercial break, a man was shown in a car wash -- riding with his young son. Actually, there was no intentional linkage. The spot from Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco, was for eToys, and in it the kid has such a good time that dad later orders him a toy car wash via the e-tailer. An eToys spokesman calls the ad's placement "a complete coincidence." But Adages suggests that if Ally McBeal feels lonely in a future episode, she might want to order something from eToys. As the site says in its tag, it's "Where great ideas come to you." Car washes are another such place.

Reaching Latinos -- clumsily

Memo to all you multi-culturalists striving to reach ethnic markets: Teen-agers are none too impressed. Latino teens label Spanish-language advertising "cheesy" and "corny" in research released by the California Milk Processor Board. Cheskin Research interviewed 40 LA area bilingual and bicultural Latino teens. More than 75% said they think it's obvious that more money and time are invested in English-language ads. The teens said they prefer English most of the time and Spanish at home; 70% said they liked The Gap ads because of the diversity and music.

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