Has Success Spoiled 'Fred Rated'?

Has success spoiled Fred Rated? The fate of Shadoe Stevens, who has played the often overzealous if not zany Fred Rated character on more than 1,000 spots for the Federated Group since 1982, is in serious doubt.

And even though Stevens' big-screen debut as the star of a Dino De Laurentiis film is just months away, he may not be Federated's leading man much longer.

"We have torn opinions on what to do," said Keith Powell, president of Federated Group. After all, over the past five years Federated has invested more than $50 million in commercials that star Stevens. While Stevens has "a wide following and is well-liked by the public," said Powell, "we're going to let our ad agency decide these things."

Next week, Powell said, the Los Angeles-based home electronics chain will choose a new ad agency from among five finalists for its $10-million account. Currently, Federated does its own media buying, but its creative work has been handled through Stevens' Los Angeles production company, Shadoevision.

Stevens says he wants--very badly--to continue starring in commercials for Federated. "I've been there through the company's whole growing process," he said. "And now, with my own career just beginning to bloom, I hope they'd stick with me."

Indeed, the 40-year-old Stevens may soon add greatly to his commercial value. He stars in "Traxx," a comedy directed by Gerome Gary, about a former mercenary who single-handedly cleans up a corrupt town. It is scheduled for release in early August. Stevens said that in July he will begin a 60-city promotional campaign for the film. That tour includes a number of talk show appearances. "Naturally everyone will ask me about Federated," he said, "and I'd like to be able to say that I still work for them."

But after losing some share of the market since competitor Circuit City entered the Southern California market in November, 1985, Federated is looking for a new image. The highly successful Circuit City ad strategy, developed by Los Angeles-based Admarketing, has tried to portray the chain as a far more upscale operation than Federated.

Well aware of Circuit City's success, Federated has lately toned down much of its Fred Rated advertising. Indeed, instead of taking sledge hammers to items like TV sets--as he has done in nearly 40 Federated commercials over the past five years--Stevens most recently has been shown chatting with a pixieish 6-year-old girl about where her parents shop. "There are some people whom Fred Rated doesn't appeal to," Stevens admits. "So we're trying different things."

Indeed, some top executives at local ad agencies vying for the Federated account think that Fred Rated must go. "The life cycle of Fred Rated is over," said Nancy Shalek, executive vice president and general manager of the West Coast office of W. B. Doner & Co. "Sure, he's built name recognition for the chain, but he mostly appeals to younger people who can't even qualify for credit."

But Stevens says that he has developed a "cult following" as a result of his Federated commercials. While recently attending a basketball game at the Forum, the crowd stood up and started chanting his TV name, he said. "Not a day goes by when somebody doesn't stop me on the street and say, 'Hey, it's Fred Rated.' "

What's more, he insists, "the film will be a giant hit." And if Federated dumps him before the film's release? "I'll go on to do other wonderful things. And they'll find out--the hard way."

'People Meter' Ratings

The eyes of the ad world will focus on Denver this week, where a group of 600 residents will help determine the sort of advertisements that the rest of us see--and even the products we buy.

For the first time, a TV ratings service will sell to advertisers, ad agencies and TV stations daily results of its so-called "people meter" findings. Unlike conventional electronic meters that simply monitor the TV shows viewed in a household, people meters also electronically track who is watching the shows and what products they buy. Until now, these new meters have only been used experimentally.

Other people meter services will also begin selling their findings soon. By September, A. C. Nielsen Co. and AGB Research are scheduled to begin operating national people meter services. And sometime in the fall, R. D. Percy & Co. is scheduled to introduce a people meter with an infrared heat sensor that can tell when someone enters or leaves the room. It then flashes a message on the TV screen to remind viewers to record electronically who is watching. One nagging problem: The system still has a tough time distinguishing people from large dogs.

Facing Music at JWT

Don Johnston is going to have to face the music. Soon.

The chairman of the troubled J. Walter Thompson advertising agency has mostly turned deaf ears to his critics. And while three of the ad firm's top executives have been fired--or have resigned--over the past six months, Johnston has amassed most of their duties.

The latest casualty is Bertram Metter, the 59-year-old chairman and chief executive of J. Walter Thompson USA, who resigned from the agency late last week following a falling out with Johnston.

"It reminds me of a game of musical chairs," said Joseph W. O'Donnell, the former hand-picked chairman of J. Walter Thompson Co., who was fired in January following charges that he was trying to gain early control of the company. "But in this game, when the music starts, Don never leaves his seat."

Johnston will be on the hot seat for the next few weeks. As chairman of JWT Group, the ad agency's parent company, he will have to explain dismal first-quarter results that the company is expected to release this week. (He declined to be interviewed by The Times.)

"It's going to be a really terrible first quarter," projected Victoria A. Butcher, analyst at the New York securities firm Eberstadt Fleming Inc. "It's possible that they could even lose money."

None of the other major publicly held advertising conglomerates are expected to post operational losses for the quarter, she said. If the firm's financial picture doesn't improve by the end of the year, she said, "Johnston could be ousted."

Just where stockholder sentiment lies may be better known one week from today at the company's annual meeting in New York. It will be followed by a board meeting that could be heated. "Eventually," said Butcher, "this is all going to be a great book . . . or perhaps a TV mini-series."

Baby-Boom Bust?

Perhaps the so-called baby boom generation is already becoming a marketing bust. After months of planning, the Chicago-based American Marketing Assn., last week was forced to cancel a planned two-day convention, "Boomer Consumers." Reason: Only 15 executives registered. Said an AMA spokesman: "We had more inquiries from the press than from executives."

Checkup for Mom

For Mother's Day, you can spend $65 and send Mom eight pounds of candy, a couple of dozen roses--or a mammogram. A mammogram? Actually, mammograms will be called "Mom-o-Grams" for the next few weeks at St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank. In a bid to market its mammogram service--a breast X-ray to detect tumors--the hospital is selling $65 certificates that remind the recipient: "Because Happy Mother's Day is worth repeating."

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