All-American ads

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Two days after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, posters showing a bold graphic of the American flag with a tagline, slightly altered from how it appeared in a past advertising campaign, were hung in windows of Kenneth Cole stores nationwide. "What we stand for is more important than what we stand in. -Kenneth Cole" reads the copy.

Kenneth Cole Productions is not alone in hoisting Old Glory. Results of a Sept. 15 Gallup survey show 82% of U.S. citizens polled say they have flown or will fly the American flag in response to the attacks. Marketers nationwide, from Kmart Corp. to Southwest Airlines, have in recent days used the Stars and Stripes in print advertisements expressing sympathy and condolences to those suffering in the wake of a national tragedy. The current Kenneth Cole message-originally "What you stand for is more important than what you stand in"-is "expected from [the Kenneth Cole] brand voice," said Richard Kirshenbaum, co-chairman of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York. "His brand has always been about being political."

But despite a widespread embrace of Uncle Sam, it is doubtful patriotic messages will continue to be staples of advertising campaigns in the coming months and year. "There's a danger in exhorting `Buy U.S.A.' We are part of a global economy," said Donny Deutsch, chairman-CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, New York. "We are not at war with the world."

The risk of jingoistic advertisements, observes University of Florida professor James Twitchell, author of "20 Ads that Shook the World," "is an affiliation problem. Does a marketer want to affiliate with a complicated, highly conflicted world?" Consider that even U.S. military recruitment campaigns of recent years avoid asking prospects to give themselves to their country. Instead, such taglines as "Be all you can be," and "An Army of One," connect with the concept of self-improvement.

handle with care

Handled poorly, a patriotic message can be interpreted as opportunistic or worse, cheesy. ANC Rental Corp.'s Alamo brand introduced lower "Great American Rates" via an in-house ad that broke Sept. 19 in USA Today (see story, P. 4). The copy mimics the national anthem, using the phrase "sea to shining sea," and claims not all car rental companies are "created equal," echoing the Declaration of Independence. Commenting on Alamo's effort, former car-advertising executive Jim Sanfilippo, now with consultancy AMCI, noted taste in advertising is not taught in business school.

Even ads deemed appropriate, like the Kenneth Cole posters, may not remain in place for a prolonged time. "Every day, there's a new occurrence," said Meredith Wollins, VP-corporate communications at the shoe and apparel firm. "We want to be sure we are doing the right thing."

Yet advertising executives do believe that those brands perceived prior to Sept. 11 as icons of certain American values, such as wholesomeness, may benefit from recent political events. The week of the attack, Kmart ran ads from Omnicom's TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York, featuring the American flag and instructed readers to tear it out and display it (see Landmarks). "I thought [the flag ad] was absolutely perfect," said Marina Hahn, exec VP-entertainment at WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson Co. "It was in keeping with its brand. It is an all-American place to shop. It appeals to the middle-American mentality."

Andrew Jones, chief strategy officer at Atlanta-headquartered agency WestWayne, anticipates demand for brands he dubs as "heartland"-less pretentious, down-to-earth products-will rise. "Brands are very self-expressive, and must stay true to who they are," he said.

Marketing Officer Elyse Essick aimed to do just that in a recent TV spot created by Yaffe & Co., Southfield, Mich., for her employer, the Munder Funds. The ad shows a series of candles being lit during a vigil, while a voice-over encourages viewers "as Americans and as investors to remain focused on the future. Because the long-term strengths of our nation and the economy remain intact." Said Ms. Essick: "We are an investment adviser. We want people to remember that markets fall, but they rebound, too."

Contributing: Jean Halliday, Kate MacArthur, Rich Thomaselli and Laurel Wentz

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