Agency, Media and Marketing Pros Favor Reassessing Industry Tradition

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- A majority of advertising, marketing and media professionals responding to a 24-hour AdAge.com online poll disagree with
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the tradition of halting advertising during the outbreak of war.

Along with their votes, the respondents' e-mailed comments reflected a feeling that wartime advertising traditions need to be reassessed in an era of terrorism where the very goal is the disruption of daily American life and commerce.

Keep economy spinning
"We should show respect for what the nation and our military is undertaking. However, we must keep the wheels of our economy spinning so that success is not limited to the sands of Iraq," wrote Edward Benavent, president of Leo Burnett Puerto Rico.

The poll was taken on AdAge.com from 5 p.m. Wednesday -- the evening President Bush's ultimatum to Saddam Hussein ran out -- to 5 p.m. Thursday, when U.S. allied forces moved into action.

The poll question was: "Does it make sense to shut down advertising, further weakening the economy during the new kinds of conflicts we're engaged in?"

A total of 1,089 AdAge.com visitors cast a vote and 11% of those accompanied their vote with often-lengthy comments. Overall, 67% of those responding voted no to curtailing advertising.

A handful objected to the wording of the poll. "What a loaded question," wrote Susan Gidel, marketing director of the futures brokerage firm Lind-Waldock in Chicago. "A better one would have been more open-ended, without the phrase 'further weakening the economy' included. Can you prove that [a period of] no advertising weakens the economy?"

The majority of respondents were unabashedly in favor of both marketers and media companies maintaining their advertising in part to demonstrate that the country remained stable and strong in the face of threats.

"Regardless of the nation's divided support of the war effort, we need to do everything in our power to keep the economy afloat," wrote Kristin Socha, a sales planner at Wenner Media's Rolling Stone magazine. "Advertising is key to consumer spending, which is fundamental for a healthy economy."

Domino effect
"Tucking our tails between our legs and shutting down advertising during a war is anti-business," wrote Gordon Bayliss, vice president for corporate sales at WGUC-FM in Cincinnati. "It can start a domino effect that can inhibit consumers' spending power and ultimately damage the economy. When businesses continue to advertise it strengthens commerce -- and our fight against terrorism."

"Any time an individual or company changes their actions the terrorist has won," wrote Steven Jagger, senior vice president of MSW Research in New York. "We can only defeat global terrorism by showing that it has no 'real' affect upon our actions, be those political, economic or social. Additionally, going dark would damage an economy that is already stuttering. This is a risk that we cannot afford. It is our patriotic duty to help build the economy and to show the strength of the American system."

Advertising has traditionally been halted or severely curtailed during times of war and national trauma for two reasons. Marketers don't want their product images mixed in with those of carnage and devastation, and both marketers and media company managers feel that, as a matter of social propriety, they should appear less commercially oriented during such periods.

Economic muscle
Poll respondents indicated that both concerns were still valid but needed to be balanced against the need to maintain the marketing systems that are a central muscle of the economy.

"I understand that advertisers often withdraw their ads under such conditions because they do not want to juxtapose the serious images of war with a relatively frivolous issue of which toothpaste brand you should use," wrote Jennifer Ball, a research executive at the Millward Brown market research agency in Chicago.

"They are also concerned about offending those that wish to maintain the solemnity of the situation," she continued. "However we must carry on with our lives or else the enemies have won. I do not see it as distasteful or disrespectful to proceed with the activities necessary to promote business, including advertising. This is especially true in light or our already hobbling economy. I believe the American people will understand this, and perhaps even welcome the momentary relief of entertainment that advertising can provide."

Shutting down is 'ridiculous'
"Shutting down advertising across the board is right now ridiculous," said Mike Hammer, an account executive at CNN in New York. "I believe it is something that has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Is the creative message appropriate? Does the advertiser's category make sense at this time?" Mr. Hammer emphasized that he was speaking for himself and not the CNN network.

"The question should not be 'to advertise, or not to advertise,' " wrote Rob Leavitt, senior director of marketing at ITSMA service marketing advisors in Lexington, Ky. "Rather, we should be asking how to advertise during the new types of conflicts. Caution and sensitivity to multiple audiences are doubly important in this emerging age of constant not-quite war."

"War IS hell, but the cessation of commerce will make it more hellish," wrote Eric McClure, media director at Oasis Advertising in New York. "Let's give a bit more credit to the American public, and to our industry's ability to continue what we do while still being respectful of the circumstances around us."

The other viewpoint
A third of the respondents didn't agree.

"It's entirely appropriate to drop advertising when programmers and producers are breaking format and dropping other elements like 'weather on the nines' and promos," wrote Jennifer Fusco, sales manager of WUNC-FM in Chapel Hill, N.C. "A few hours or even a couple days without running commercials won't cause any advertisers to go out of business."

Peter Comitini, of LiveArea Design in New York, said, "What could make ad messages look more trivial than running them in an environment of truly important news and information of global concern. It's bad business and in bad taste to do so. The strategy of terrorists to disrupt our way of life is not effectively confronted by running beer commercials."

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Hoag Levins is the editor of AdAge.com.

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