9/11 Anniversary: Advertisers cautious

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A month before the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, advertisers are still debating their plans with considerable wariness. Some have already chosen to sit the day out, particularly in those businesses that felt the impact directly, such as financial services companies and airlines. And even those who are leaning to continue their advertising are adjusting their media schedule and message to make sure it matches the tone of the day.

It's a difficult choice. The week of Sept. 11 falls in a traditionally key period of advertising activity, when financial services advertisers gear up after a summer hiatus, package-goods advertisers launch new products, automakers launch next year's models and retailers are abuzz with back-to-school offers.

But marketers, understandably, are cautious.

"The tone of 9/11 is still kind of a raw nerve for people," said Cheryl Berman, vice chairman and chief creative officer of Bcom3 Group's Leo Burnett USA. Burnett's staff has had discussions with clients including Morgan Stanley & Co., Delta Air Lines, the U.S. Army and Walt Disney Co., without conclusions, she said.

"You have a great chance of falling flat on your face. ... You're not going to have the Toys `R' Us Support Your Country Sale," Ms. Berman said.

Financial services advertisers-probably the category literally most affected by the attacks-are leaning towards silence.

The second week of September is the time when financial companies rev up marketing efforts usually placed on hold during the summer, said Karen Smith, director of strategic planning at Brouillard Communications, WPP Group's financial and corporate advertising specialist.

Still, Brouillard recommended that one financial client postpone its campaign launch by a week out of concern that the message would be lost in the clutter of Sept. 11 coverage. Another corporate client, business-jet company Dessault Falcon, chose to postpone its campaign for a week to avoid the juxtaposition of advertising corporate aviation next to stories on commercial aviation security.

Airline companies plan to lay low on the anniversary, particularly American Airlines and United Airlines, whose planes were involved in the attacks.

"We're leaning towards having no advertising on 9/11 right now, but again that final decision has not been made," said a United spokesman. A spokesman for American said the airline will not run any ads during a period from approximately Labor Day through Sept. 20.

One exception is Boeing Co., which executives said plans to sponsor NBC's Sept. 11 tribute, "Concert for America." (See story below.)

Some companies postponed product launches. Campbell Soup Co. decided to postpone the kickoff of its fall soup ads, and SABMiller's Miller Brewing Co. and Burger King plan to go dark on Sept. 11. Sears, Roebuck & Co. is rescheduling its ads for another day. Kraft Foods has instructed its agencies to avoid 9/11 content on TV and magazines.

quiet time

September is a good time to "be a little quieter" said John Coyne, group account director on the Hewlett-Packard account at Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. No matter what the creative looks like, "It will smack of profiteering on the back of a tragedy."

Mark DiMassimo, chairman of DiMassimo Brand Advertising, New York, said there are three points marketers need to know: Don't defile the spirit of the day; determine whether you even need to advertise; if you do, don't mix messages. "If you do use your advertising dollars to give flow to the human sentiments ... realize it's not a strategic decision. Don't expect to get noticed, and don't mix the message by including your new low interest-rate offer," he said.

"At this point, the creatives have the story," said Natalie Swed Stone, director of national radio services at Omnicom's OMD, New York. This anniversary will be the most difficult to navigate, she said, since it will set the precedent for future behavior.

"We're going to wait and see what everyone does. It's a picture that hasn't been painted yet," she said.

contributing: bill britt, hillary chura, alice z. cuneo, cara b. dipasquale, kate macarthur, lisa sanders, richard linnett, rich thomaselli

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