LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Published on .

There's been a lot of talk lately about the idea that traditional marketing is dead and that product placements are the future of brand building. But placements are not the panacea that will save this industry.

Two years ago, the magic pill was media. In the `80s, it was direct mail. Before that, promotions were supposed to lead the surge of the industry. But as we learned then-and as we should know now-no one approach can be successful on its own.

Admittedly, product placements work on some level. But there's a point of saturation that is very fine, very delicate and very often passed without regard to sound marketing sense.

Since the birth of the practice, which many consider to be "E.T." chowing down on Reese's Pieces candy [in the 1982 feature film "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial"], putting products in TV shows and movies has become very lucrative for the studios and marketers alike. But, as we saw in "Wayne's World" and "Josie and the Pussycats," too much is most definitely too much. (In the former, the producers seemed to be poking fun at product placements, but the latter practically institutionalized the soft shill.)

The value of product placements always was that their subtlety enabled companies to bring products into the minds of consumers along with some form of emotional investment. But as the in-movie ads become more and more pervasive-and more and more blatant-consumers will learn to tune them out just as they do advertising in traditional media.

There is merit in making product placement part of the marketing mix. However, the smart company should continue to take a holistic approach to its marketing that includes an appropriate balance of traditional media, PR, interactive and, yes, even product placements, as the best way to reach its audience and build its brand.

Greg Feist

Copywriter

Brokaw Inc.

Cleveland

Nestea swipes idea but does it badly

In the "new" Nestea campaign, snowboarders plodded through a succession of edits where they rip, shred and sometimes crash into various mountain obstacles. At the end of each edit, creative stupidity becomes creative larceny as each snowboarder is met with a resounding "dude!" from one of his co-slackers. Each "dude" carries a slightly different connotation. It means everything from "nice move" to "gosh, that must have hurt when you smacked your head into that tree." Finally, a skeleton takes a sip of Nestea, turns into a snowman and utters his own surprised "dude!" I'm not quite sure what the creative team was going for with this ending, but that's not the point of this letter.

So, does this idea sound familiar?

Bob Garfield, in his "Ford ads show sometimes you just can't say too little" (Ad Review, AA, Feb. 14, '00), reviewed a campaign for the Ford Focus which, if I remember correctly, had the exact same idea.

In one execution, a group of young adults leaves Red's Java House with full cups of coffee and no lids. After a harrowing encounter with railroad tracks and a sharp story line, which used "dude" as the only copy, the people in the car make it over the tracks without scalding themselves.

I, too, saw those ads, and I shared Garfield's assessment that the creative team communicated "relevant features in a relevant style employing the relevant-i.e., limited-idiom of the consumer."

Which brings me back to the Nestea ads.

"Borrowing" ideas from past advertising efforts is certainly nothing new in our business. However, when creative teams glean from the work of others to help their own projects, they usually have either the brains or the self-respect to find a way to make the idea their own. ... The people who created the Nestea ads have done none of this. It's the same set-ups, the same gags, even the same payoff. It just happens to be for iced tea instead of a car. ...

If you're a creative, and you're going to rip another creative's ideas off, at least do a better job than he or she did with the first execution. Make the original creative team say, "I wish we'd thought to do it that way."

In this case, I'll bet the Ford Focus creatives are sitting in their offices thinking, "Thank God we didn't do it the way Nestea did."

Whitman W. Thompson

Group Creative Director

McCann/Jay Advertising

Rochester, N.Y.

We should fear Calif. ruling against RJR

Re: "RJR shouldn't blame courts for its woes" (Letters to the Editor, AA, July 22): This is the type of self-congratulatory, disingenuous tripe that the plaintiff's bar indulges in to justify its milking economic value from this country.

Cigarettes are legal products that have carried an explicit warning for decades. Tobacco growers are still subsidized by the federal government. If a product is legal to market, then how can anybody argue with a straight face that a company is "reprehensible" when it does precisely that? As far as failing to disclose the true dangers of smoking, you would have to be from Mars to miss the warnings that smoking is bad for you.

Maybe the trial lawyers should lobby to make smoking illegal if they are so concerned with the health of their compatriots. Any bets on whether that will happen? Doesn't pay as well.

We should all fear any ruling that penalizes companies for marketing their products. At the end of the day, what the plaintiff's bar has succeeded in doing is not, as they claim, holding "reprehensible" companies accountable, but encouraging people to assume no responsibility for their actions-and reaping a windfall in the process.

We are moving inexorably toward a society where no adverse outcome will go uncompensated. The liability cost in this country is expected to reach $300 billion by 2004.

Remember when the anti-tobacco lawyers claimed that this type of product-liability litigation was unique due to the nature of the cigarette industry? Keep that in mind when they roll out their fast-food offensive.

Bill Kolter

Warsaw, Ind.

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