New Campaign Mixes Patriotism and Consumer Hardware

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NEW YORK ( -- As Americans head home for Thanksgiving, a coalition of marketers, media companies and the U.S. government will launch an advertising program promoting patriotism and Sony high-end consumer entertainment hardware.

The campaign's keystone 60-second TV spot depicts GIs in a war-zone tent using portable

Watch the Spot: Real Player Required
Sony's portable DVD player is the star of the 'River' spot.
DVD players to view multimedia greetings from back home. The portable Sony DVD units that are the stars of the commercial retail at prices ranging from $999 to $1,499.

Sony, Circuit City
Called "Message from America," the ad campaign is backed by a 15-member group that includes Circuit City Stores, Sony Corp. of America's Sony Electronics, Viacom's CBS and the U.S. Department of Defense.

The ad will air on CBS and other Viacom properties, including MTV, BET and UPN.

The campaign is a mix of paid and public service airtime -- the 60-second "River" placements are paid for by coalition members including Sony.

The campaign is expected to receive commercial airtime worth an estimated $5 million to $10 million through Dec. 31. Viacom is also allocating time to run PSAs -- in this case, a compilation of video vignettes filmed as part of the program.

Product spot
"River" was created by WPP Group's Y&R Advertising, New York, Sony's agency. The spot, which breaks on CBS during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, had an unusual and circuitous evolution. Sony and Y&R produced a spot in March that focused on military people away from home during the holidays. The idea was that Sony products help connect people who are apart, said John Partilla, managing director, Y&R Advertising.

After the events of Sept. 11, Sony and Y&R reworked the creative concept for the ad, though they kept the melancholy Joni Mitchell track "River," sung by actor Robert Downey Jr., who performed it on Fox's Ally McBeal last year. Y&R waived its fees to re-edit the commercial.

Dubbed "Message From America," the campaign encourages people who want to send holiday greetings to soldiers on active duty to visit any of Circuit City's 600 stores nationwide to videotape 30-second messages.

Circuit City sales slump
The effort comes as Circuit City works to

restage its business after exiting the appliance category last year. The retailer's sales fell 21% in the six months ended Aug. 31.

The spot includes one woman speaking on the portable DVD player screen: "You don't even know me and you're risking your life for me. Thank you," she says. Then the spot invites viewers to visit Circuit City to record a message for the troops.

The campaign, which hopes to drive traffic into stores, launches Nov. 26 during what is typically Circuit City's most intense sales period. Circuit City will dedicate store personnel to the program, which it will also promote via a page in its weekly circulars. The chain will create at least one coalition-funded ad to run in Gannett Co.'s USA Today.

At Circuit City, the messages will be taped using Sony camcorders, burned on to DVDs by Circuit City employees, then sent overseas by the Department of Defense. Many of the best messages will be edited into vignettes by CBS, then aired as PSAs hosted by CBS sports and entertainment personalities.

Military family option
Military family members can tape a five-minute message at Circuit City or at military exchanges. Those messages -- not part of Viacom's PSAs -- will be burned onto DVDs, and the families will be given special envelopes in which to mail them.

Greetings will be aimed at 123,000 active-duty personnel on aircraft carriers, military bases and submarines.

"Except for the most austere locations, there are facilities and [DVD] machines available to play back the DVDs," said John Molino, deputy assistant secretary of defense.

CBS will also promote the effort on its NFL Thanksgiving game broadcast. A compilation of edited greetings begin airing during the CBS military show JAG the week of Nov. 26. A Web site, ( created in-house by Sony, goes live Nov. 20.

Staff writer Wayne Friedman contributed to this report.

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