Published on .

Most Popular
Florida orange growers must feel a little like Bob Dole. In his TV commercial for Visa, the former presidential candidate laments: "I just can't win." In the growers' case, the state's Department of Citrus last fall purposely switched to a "politically correct" ad spokesman-a "talking ham sandwich." And here it is, in the midst of yet another controversy. Our advice: When thinking commodity advertising, think generic advertising.

The Florida growers' ad problems go back to the days when former Miss America Anita Bryant wholesomely pitched their wholesome beverage, a partnership that worked until Ms. Bryant also became a high-profile symbol of resistance to gay rights.

The citrus department's next fling with a spokesperson, actor and Florida resident Burt Reynolds, foundered when Mr. Reynolds' marital problems became fodder for supermarket tabloid headlines. Then the citrus department placed ads on conservative gadfly Rush Limbaugh's high-rated syndicated radio show, and the ad schedule was attacked by interest groups that were regular targets of Mr. Limbaugh-feminist and civil rights organizations, and teachers unions. Amid product boycott threats, the Limbaugh schedule came to an end.

Now there are allegations about skullduggery with the ham sandwich. Dallas agency Richards Group last fall crafted new ads for the department featuring a talking sandwich that touts the benefits of orange juice, its refrigerator sidekick. The new headache is a lawsuit, filed by Tabloid News Services, alleging Richards swiped the ham sandwich illustration from its Web site.

While some marketers deliberately court controversy, it's not Calvins that are on sale here. This is orange juice. The only controversy should be over "more pulp" or "pulp free." Keep it simple-sunshine, oranges, good health. It isn't the spokesman, stupid; it's the juice.

Quid pro PC

Privacy advocates smell a ruse in Free-PC Inc.'s scheme to give away 10,000 home computers in return for collecting detailed personal information. Many consumers see a deal: more than 750,000 sought to sign up. We side with the consumers on this one.

Consumers can weigh the costs and benefits. Those who freely choose to participate will be getting a good deal in return for providing data on income, age and interests. Free-PC will use the data to deliver targeted ads stored on the hard drive; it promises not to release data to advertisers or others. Free-PC is backed by Bill Gross, whose record in developing respected consumer Web sites and software (eToys, CitySearch, Knowledge Adventure) gives the outfit instant credibility.

It's unclear if this business model will work. Free-PC initially identified only one advertiser, online promotions company Cybergold, and it's an expensive way to build an audience. But Mr. Gross deserves credit for an innovative program. In other venues, consumers long have accepted ads in exchange for something else they value, such as free or low-cost TV programming. They also trade data on their grocery purchases to supermarkets in exchange for "preferred card" shopping discounts. And marketers can and do give big-ticket items to secure business, such as free cell phones with long-term telephone service contracts.

Free-PC takes this another step by collecting a considerable volume of data (check out the questionnaire at Consumers can decide if a free PC is enough payment for what they're being asked to provide. If Free-PC succeeds, what other freebies-electronics wares, services, cable channels-will