Marketers mobilize war plans

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Vexed marketers finally began to put blackout plans in place as "shock and awe" strikes began on March 21, ending several days of indecision over whether the war had actually started.

Earlier in the week, many companies, including MasterCard International, General Mills, Dr Pepper/Seven Up and Toyota Motor Sales USA, said they planned to be off air for at least 48 hours. But deciding that the war had not actually started, networks returned to regularly scheduled programming-and the advertising that comes with it-intermittently even as the first strikes were being fired.

Despite plans to pull out of all TV news programming for its Toyota Division for 72 hours after the war started, ads for the autos were still running the night of March 20, which surprised some executives at the company. A spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales USA said it hadn't gone dark because of a "debate with the networks and the ad community on whether missile strikes [March 19] constituted the beginning of war."

Jim Lentz, VP-marketing for the Toyota Division, said the company still plans to be off-air for two or three days as TV networks started all-war news coverage.

Similarly, though General Mills stated its intentions to pull advertising for the first 48 hours of the war, ads for its Yoplait yogurt and Honey Nut Cheerios, among others, ran during regular network programming during morning and prime-time coverage March 20.

The launch of the "shock and awe" phase that began shortly before press time March 21 looked set to prompt a more continuous disruption of advertising. Microsoft said it was suspending all print, TV and online advertising for two weeks.

SABMiller decided to pull advertising from March 20 through the weekend. It will reassess next week whether to resume advertising in the National College Athletic Association basketball games, according to a spokesman. He said Miller is also reassessing its French-bashing ad for Miller High Life.

mutual decision

Unilever said it won't advertise on network prime time if it's pre-empted by war coverage. The war, however, shouldn't affect Unilever advertising on cable networks or syndicated programs without war coverage, and Unilever will "work with the networks to resume normal scheduling based on their decisions to return to regularly scheduled programs," said Brad Simmons, VP-media North America.

Wendy's, likewise, planned to keep its media schedule in entertainment and sports programming as long as it wasn't pre-empted by news coverage. Sprint PCS pulled its TV advertising on network news programs and from newspapers' news sections March 19, but continued to advertise on network and cable entertainment programming. "We're sensitive to separating ads from wartime coverage, especially in TV and newspapers, that's a learning from Sept. 11," said Dan Wilinsky, a Sprint PCS spokesman.

For some, the need to get out in front of consumers necessitated a business-as-usual stance. H&R Block, for example, said it planned to continue advertising its tax-preparation services during the days leading up to the April 15 tax deadline.

For McDonald's Corp., which is preparing several major marketing efforts to help reverse recent sales and share declines, the hope is to keep ad plans as intact as possible. The potential necessity of pulling ads for its upcoming promotion, the Winning Time Game, set to break March 25, could have serious sales consequences, especially if the ads never make it on air, said Senior VP-Marketing Bill Lamar.

TJX's Marshalls is likewise in a bind. Karen Coppola, VP-marketing at the retailer, said she planned to proceed with the launch last week of a $30 million ad campaign.

Visa USA is balancing between the need to drive sales to Visa and its member banks with sensitivity to the crisis. Becky Saeger, exec VP-brand marketing, said the marketer did plan to pull TV ads for a couple of days following the outbreak of hostilities but would assess the situation on a day-to-day basis.

AMR Corp.'s American Airlines and UAL Corp.'s United Airlines formed contingency plans to allow travelers time to change tickets (American through Dec. 31, and United for domestic flights through Sept. 1) but neither are advertising the fact beyond Web sites.

Tabled `Talk'

Some launches are being postponed. AT&T Corp.'s AT&T Consumer business has tabled ads for its "Talk is Good" campaign. The effort by WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, broke March 17, and was pulled two days later.

Starwood Hotels said it was putting on hold the launch of its branding campaign for Sheraton Resorts & Hotels, the first TV for the brand in seven years. The effort, from Interpublic Group of Cos.' Deutsch, New York, scheduled to break April 1, has been delayed at least until April 21.

Stalled introductions in the automotive category may also dash hopes that spending for a slew of upcoming models will give the economy a lift. Eric Conn, assistant VP-advertising for Honda and Acura at American Honda Motor Co., said his ad launch in about a month for Acura's all-new TSX sports sedan may be delayed. Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif., handles.

Toyota's Mr. Lentz said he's concerned as well about next month's launch of the brand's redone Sienna minivan, from Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Torrance, Calif. "If war pre-empts that launch, it will cost us an ungodly fortune to get back into prime time at a later date," he said.

contributing: advertising age staff

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