1999 The Year in Ad Follies

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E-nough already!

It's the most-used letter in the English language and, in the cyber-world, certainly the most overused vowel. There's e-mail and e-commerce, conducted by e-tailers, and among the more imaginative words invented for online marketers' ads: "e-conomy" (Comdex), "e-lationship" (Brierley & Partners), "e-mancipate" and "e-volve" (PC Week), "e-nabled" (TMNG.com) and "e-qua- tion" (401K Forum). Even the back ends of words aren't safe. Consider the e-gregious "Happ-e" (SubmitOrder.com).

Tinkered tailor

Casual Friday faced Backlash Monday as the Tailored Apparel, Jewelry & Accessories Council launched a three-year, $15 million campaign to promote a more formal dress code among baby boomers and Gen Xers. The campaign created by Transfusion, New York, is tagged "It's time to get dressed." According to Bill D'Arienzo, executive director of the International Association of Clothing Designers & Executives: "It's an attempt to re-establish that dressing up can be fun."

You must be skidding

Sports Illustrated and Valvoline Co. tried to pull out of a tastelessness skid after a Valvoline ad in the May 10 issue of SI appeared opposite a photo of the body of a victim of a North Carolina speedway accident in which three spectators were killed and eight injured. The ad featured the copy, "You're born. You die. In between you work on cars. We should all be so lucky." Magazine and advertiser apologized, and an SI spokeswoman said it was the magazine's fault, emphasizing, "It horrified us when we saw it."

Bugging bankers

Few organizations approached the Millennium Bug with less humor than the American Bankers Association. The group demanded that a spot from Kia Motors America (via Goldberg Moser O'Neill, San Francisco), showing consumers preparing to withdraw money in anticipation of Y2K problems, be pulled. The bankers also went bonkers over a commercial from Polaroid Corp. ( Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco) for its PopShots single-use camera, in which a guy photographed his ATM balance on New Year's Eve, just to be safe. Polaroid pulled the spot.

CK: Not OK

Calvin Klein was up to his old controversial antics, this time with the ad campaign to launch his line of children's underwear. The ads from in-house agency CRK Advertising, New York, got rapped as pedophiliac eye candy. An outdoor board on Times Square was taken down 24 hours after it went up.

Marketers duck and cover

While NATO was bombing the Balkans, U.S. marketers were dealing with the fallout. Busts of Col. Sanders were smashed in China after NATO goofed by bombing the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade. Mobs mistook the image of the bearded KFC gent with Uncle Sam. Rocks were thrown through windows at McDonald's restaurants. Protesters in one Chinese city, lacking a U.S. consulate, marched on an Anheuser-Busch brewery. Tom Doctoroff, managing director at J. Walter Thompson Co.'s agency in Shanghai, said at least one campaign had been toned down to avoid "brazen American-ness." In Serb-sympathetic Russia, the fifth-largest city of Novosibirk cracked down on the use of foreign languages and Western symbols in outdoor ads. An official in the city of 2.2 million said the U.S. flag was being banned from city light posters and that agencies had been asked to pay double for ads that include wording in foreign languages. Many saw the moves as a backlash to the war in Kosovo. But almost as soon as the bombs stopped raining down, agencies had their eyes on the beleaguered province of Yugoslavia. Bates Saatchi & Saatchi Balkans announced plans to open an agency in the Kosovo capital of Pristina. Bates Saatchi & Saatchi hoped to sign the NATO peacekeeping force as a client, as it had done in Bosnia.

To ban or not to ban

Actress Charlize Theron ("The Astronaut's Wife," "The Devil's Advocate") was at the center of an uproar in her homeland of South Africa over an anti-rape spot. The nation's Advertising Standards Authority banned, and then backed down from banning, the spot for the Rape Crisis & Trauma Center, in which Ms. Theron appeared on-camera and said: "People often ask me what the men are like in South Africa. Well, if you consider that more women are raped [in South Africa] than in any other country in the world [and] that one out of three women will be raped in their lifetime in South Africa. That every 26 seconds a woman is raped in South Africa. And, perhaps worst of all, the rest of the men in South Africa seem to think that rape isn't their problem. It's not that easy to say what the men in South Africa are like. Because there seem to be so few of them out there." Jupiter Drawing Room, Cape Town, created the spot.

Chip off the old altar

Pope John Paul II's $2 million trip to Mexico in January was blessed with tie-ins from big marketers. Frito-Lay's Sabritas subsidiary inserted pictures of the pontiff in bags of potato chips. Pepsi was another sponsor of the visit, and noted its role as an "official collaborator" in a TV spot. Other backers included Hewlett-Packard Co. and airline Mexicana. The links sparked controversy, but as a church official countered: "We live in an era of advertising, and we are men of that era."

Hard at work

The family friendly Pax TV network put some of the child characters in its "Little Men" to work in a late 19th century factory in the Dec. 3 episode, and even named the factory owner, which was an advertiser on the series. The move was part of a product placement deal, and it was probably fortunate that the advertiser was Welch Foods and the setting was a grape juice factory, rather than a meatpacker.

Fighter flight grounded

A U.S. District Court in Manhattan shot down a Seattle man who insisted Pepsi-Cola Co. owed him a jet fighter as part of its "Pepsi Stuff" merchandise promotion. A spot from BBDO Worldwide, New York, backing the promo had facetiously stated that 7 million points could be redeemed for a Harrier jet. John D.R. Leonard, 24, made good on that tongue-in-cheek offer and ordered the $23 million jet in 1996. When Pepsi turned Mr. Leonard down, he sued.

Going for brokerages

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan had online brokerages shaking last spring when he criticized their advertising because it made investing look like playing the lottery. Although he didn't mention it by name, Discover Brokerage's tow-truck driver spot from Black Rocket, San Francisco, caught a lot of the flak.

He's a Tully good fellow

American Business Press unveiled a new honor, the Tom Tully Service Award. The first recipient: Tom Tully, general manager- postal affairs and compliance at McGraw-Hill Cos.

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