Feel-Good Ad Creates a Celebrity

Leland Hess used to turn on the TV to see shows like "Dallas" or "Cheers."

But now, when the retired carpenter from Marblehead, Ohio, sits down in the family room with his wife, Irene, he flicks on the television and looks for Leland Hess.

Shell Oil Co., with a $6-million budget for its car-care products, is making Leland a veritable folk hero. This comes at a time when other big-name advertisers are turning to high-ticket superstars for testimonial advertising, ranging from Bill Cosby's serious soliloquy on E. F. Hutton to George C. Scott's patriotic praise for American Motors.

Shell, meanwhile, has landed one of the most convincing faces on television for a comparative handful of carpenter's nails.

If you haven't seen Leland yet, you will. He's the guy who travels 67 miles, six times a year, to have his 1973 Caprice serviced by a Shell Oil dealer in Cleveland.

Those facts speak a lot louder than Leland, who smiles a lot but utters not one word in the commercial. At the end of the 30-second spot, disbelieving viewers are asked to telephone Leland. A phone number flashes on the screen for a fleeting two seconds.

Evidently, plenty of people want to hear Leland speak. Since the commercials began airing on the West Coast three weeks ago, more than 2,200 people have paid out of pocket to phone that number, according to Kirk Walden, senior VP of Ogilvy & Mather's Houston office, which created the campaign.

Callers are inevitably disappointed. They don't interrupt Leland from milking the cows or raking the back lawn, because all they get is a recording of Leland's voice.

But take heart. Leland does exist. And, in a telephone interview between chores at his home, the 66-year-old Leland said he's doing it all for friendship, not fame.

"All I asked was whether this would help my buddies, Al and Dominic, at the gas station. When they said it would, I said, fine."

Leland admits he doesn't know much about acting. "But this was easy," he said, "because they're the only gas station who ever gave a doodlely-damn about me."

In the commercial, Leland is shown making the long trek to Cleveland's west side to get his car serviced. "But we never name the town," said John H. Haines, Shell's corporate manager of advertising, "so viewers won't feel excluded."

Shell now has plans to find at least five more Leland-type Shell loyalists and air their stories later this year.

The competition is well aware of Leland. And they are not taking him lightly. "Frankly," said James K. Agnew, executive VP at J. Walter Thompson/West, whose San Francisco office handles the Chevron USA account, "I haven't seen a testimonial commercial done in quite this manner before. It really hits home."

Some ad industry executives say that Leland may lead the way to a slew of new feel-good testimonials for everything from gasoline to floor wax.

Finding Leland was no fluke. Last May, Shell asked all 1,800 Shell car care dealers to send them the names of customers who drive the farthest to get their cars fixed.

Leland won.

Now, he's winning affection nationwide. There's even talk of a Leland fan club.

Meanwhile, his wife of 45 years is taking it all in stride--albeit with a hint of envy.

"He's the same old guy he always was," Irene said. "But I wonder why nobody's asked me where I go to service my '67 Buick?" We asked. Same place.

Woman on the Move

For the first time, a woman has reached the top ranks at the Assn. of National Advertisers Inc. Kim Armstrong, director of consumer affairs for American Telephone & Telegraph, was named vice chairman last week of the 77-year-old trade group. In 1988, Armstrong is expected to be named chairman. George F. Tyrrell, VP of advertising at Johnson & Johnson, was named chairman of the organization for 1987.

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Jaws are hanging along the San Bernardino Freeway these days. Some of these jaws belong to befuddled commuters who drive I-10. But another is a more familiar one, up on a highway billboard.

The billboard was posted by Marineland and features a man-eating shark. Right next to it is another billboard for San Diego tourism that shows a woman out snorkeling.

The San Diego snorkeler appears to be bait for the Los Angeles shark's supper.

Last week, commuters began telephoning Patrick Media Group Inc. of Los Angeles--the company that posted the $3,000-a-month billboards--to ask if the whole thing is a joke.

Ron Fagan, marketing manager, said it is a coincidence and not a publicity ploy. "It's hard to be this clever on purpose."

Agency Mega-Mergers the Big Topic

By nature, advertising executives are a nervous lot. They watch the Nielsen ratings like Bonnie watched Clyde.

By and large, however, they seldom admit their professional phobias. But last week, when the New York-based Assn. of National Advertisers met in the mountains of Hot Springs, Va., reality seemed to roll in with the morning fog over the Alleghenys.

Much is going on in the advertising world these days, said Wilder D. Baker, chief executive at Warwick Advertising, "but not much is going on that is good."

Nationwide, ad budgets are down, mega-mergers are sapping the creative juices from some agencies, clients are nervous--if not suspicious--about loyalty of the agencies they use, and efforts to clamp new restrictions on advertising for tobacco and alcohol are gaining strength.

As a result, an estimated 4,000 professionals are out of work. Amid this unsettled environment, Baker said, "too many agencies are spending time worrying about things other than advertisers."

Indeed, one major advertiser, Kraft Inc., says it does not want to take its ad business to a mega-merged agency. "It is hard to accept an agency as a partner if another partner with the agency is competing with you and hitting you where it hurts," said Joel D. Weiner, executive vice president of corporate marketing services at Kraft.

There were, however, some positive projections.

Keith Reinhard, chairman and chief executive of DDB Needham Worldwide Inc., a division of the newly merged Omnicom Group, said that since the merger six months ago between Doyle Dane Bernbach and Needham Harper Worldwide, the dust has finally settled--and settled nicely.

The Needham division, which was getting badly beaten in the New York market, has since been able to win more new clients there, he said. And the DDB division has made new inroads into the tough Chicago market. "We merged," Reinhard said, "because we need each other to survive."

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