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As part of a major strategic shift, Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Division has signed a $2.5 million multimedia package supporting a Smithsonian Institution exhibition and ads in a wide range of media outlets.

Times Mirror Magazines, which quarterbacked the package, eventually hopes to rake in a total of $15 million by signing up five more sponsors for the Ocean Planet exhibition that kicks off at the Smithsonian in Washington next April on the 25th anniversary of Earth Day.

Steve Burzon, Times Mirror Magazines' director of corporate sales, said the tie-in gives advertisers an opportunity to do "emotional marketing" by linking with a worthwhile cause-cleaning up the world's oceans.

For Ford, the program illustrates a new emphasis on creating marketing partnerships instead of just placing conventional media buys.

"We believe media companies have a lot of things to offer," said Dick Halseth, Ford Division media manager.

Ford executives outlined that direction May 13 in a meeting with sales reps from 225 magazine titles interested in getting the automaker's 1995 model year business. The company spent an estimated $150 million on magazine advertising last year.

The reps were told their proposals will be judged as much on value-added merchandising opportunities as rates and positioning.

That's a marked departure from past thinking.

Ford has been less aggressive than other automakers, notably General Motors Corp., in pursuing more intense and wide-ranging relationships with media companies.

For permitting the first-ever commercial use of a logo from a Smithsonian exhibit, the institution received $750,000 from Times Mirror. Each corporate sponsor will be allowed to use the Ocean Planet logo in marketing, in return for future royalty payments to the Smithsonian during the four-year life of a 10-city traveling exhibition.

The sponsors will buy spreads in each of the 10 Times Mirror magazines and ads in seven Times Mirror Co.-owned dailies including the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. They will also buy commercial spots on the Discovery Channel during Ocean Planet month next April and a spread in Smithsonian Magazine.

Mr. Burzon said the program could also be an opportunity for "passion branding" that will permit marketers to nudge up their product prices.

More than 300 editorial pages will be devoted to the topic in all Times Mirror magazines-marking the first time all magazines in the stable have galvanized around a single topic.

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