Advertising Role Proves Tricky in Life’s Kennedy Assassination Reissue

When Bob Greene went home to visit his folks in Columbus, Ohio, last Christmas, his mother ordered him down to the basement.

She sent him there with a mission: to rummage through several boxes of belongings that the columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Esquire magazine had tucked away years ago.

There, sandwiched between some junior high school report cards, Greene found a copy of Life magazine dated Nov. 29, 1963. And on the cover--which featured a stark Life logo in black and white--was a simple portrait of John F. Kennedy.

“I pulled out the magazine and couldn’t put it down,” Greene said in an interview last week. In fact, Greene was so enamored with the old issue of Life magazine that his father had purchased years earlier that he proceeded to pen an entire Esquire column on how well it captured the nation’s mood at the time.


Call it the column that launched 750,000 reissues.

Last week, Life executives said that as a direct result of Greene’s August column in Esquire, the magazine now plans to place a virtually identical issue of Life on the news stands next month. It will commemorate the 25th anniversary of Kennedy’s death.

But this time around, two things will be different. For one, the cover price will jump from the original 25 cents to $3.95. And while the original issue had no advertisers, this edition will have one: First Nationwide Network, a San Francisco-based franchise organization for 55 independently owned savings institutions.

“We could have filled this thing with ads if we wanted to,” said Elizabeth Valk, publisher of Life. “But we didn’t want to interrupt the integrity of the issue. Sure, this one has an advertiser, but I’d be surprised if people see this as an attempt to exploit the tragic death of John Kennedy.”


The ad is a seven-page reproduction of a painting of children at play across the United States. The painting in the ad, by San Francisco artist Harry Wysocki, features excerpts of various Kennedy quotes. The first page of the ad mentions that First Nationwide is sponsoring the ad, and the last page lists the First Nationwide Network member savings and loans and savings banks in 37 states.

Like executives at Life, officials at First Nationwide also discussed the possibility of negative public reactions. “I don’t think we can be accused of exploiting this thing. We did it in good taste,” said Toby Olson, manager of national advertising for First Nationwide. “That’s why we tried to be 90% non-promotional.”

First Nationwide Network is, however, looking for a little attention. The 5-year-old network is a subsidiary of San Francisco-based First Nationwide Bank, which is owned by Ford Motor Co. The network provides strategic planning, advertising and lending assistance to member banks. “When this opportunity came along we felt it could be a good vehicle for image recognition,” Olson said, “but obviously a very tricky one.”

This isn’t the first time that Life magazine has sold a single advertiser on an entire issue. During the 1984 Summer Olympics, it published a special issue with Chrysler as the only advertiser. Similarly, other Time Inc. publications--including People and Fortune--have also published issues with single advertisers.

But there are risks, warns Gary Frazier, associate professor of marketing at USC. “Advertisers have to be extremely careful what they associate themselves with,” said Frazier. “Obviously, this issue will have a lot of reader interest, but it could also bring up a lot of negative feeling that people have about that time in their lives. If those same negative feelings are translated toward the advertiser, that’s not good.”

Indeed, the ad agency behind the campaign, the San Francisco and Los Angeles offices of DDB Needham Worldwide, said there were some discussions about not mentioning First Nationwide at all, except in a single logo. “But we felt our client was paying good money for the ad, and there would certainly be a long-term value in associating with it,” said Daniel Wilkinson, president of the San Francisco office of DDB Needham.

Not so concerned about exploitation or bad feelings, Olson said he had other worries. “I was more afraid of the political issue,” Olson said. “Some readers might think we must be all liberal Democrats.”

So, it was up to the ad agency to create the right tone for the ad. “We had to think hard about how to put the right message in the midst of all that,” said Alan Pando, the Los Angeles-based chairman of DDB Needham’s West Coast operations. “You can’t just run any advertisement next to those pictures of Jackie (Kennedy) in her pillbox hat.”


As for Bob Greene, well, he’s rather bemused by the whole thing. He figures that gobs of companies will probably try to capitalize on the upcoming anniversary of JFK’s death. “Better Life magazine,” he said, “than some other alternatives that come to mind.”

Of course, none of this would likely have happened if Greene, then a junior high school student, hadn’t tucked away his dad’s issue of Life magazine 25 years ago. For his efforts--and his column suggesting the reissue--Life plans to send Greene “some sort of ceremonial issue,” said Dave Long, Life’s advertising director.

“I called my dad to tell him about it,” said Greene, whose father is 73 years old. “His comment: ‘What about me? It was my magazine.’ ”

Weinberger Strategy Peaceful, Forbes Says

For those advertising executives who are wondering what will happen to Forbes magazine when former Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger takes over as publisher on Jan. 1, there were these words last week from Malcolm S. Forbes Jr., president of the magazine and son of its founder.

“If you don’t advertise in Forbes,” he told those attending the Western regional convention of the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies in Scottsdale, Ariz., “we promise not to order air strikes on you.” What’s more, Forbes assured the group, “It’s not true that we will be giving our advertisers $1,500 coffee pots for Christmas.”

Research Paying Off for Latin Ad Firm

It began last year when a couple of Latino radio stations in the San Diego area decided to add some punch to their newscasts. Why not add 90-second segments that detail everything from the spending habits to political attitudes of their listeners?


That’s when two San Diego Latino radio stations owned by the Califormula Radio Group--104.5 FM and 95.7 FM--began to run the results of surveys by a 4-year-old research firm, Latin Ad. The company has conducted surveys on everything from the numbers of Southern Californian Latinos who have credit cards to the kinds of cars that Latinos own.

The survey found, for example, that 74% of those responding had no credit cards. And 61% said they owned American-made cars, said Daniel Ajzen, project director.

Now, Latin Ad has begun to expand its research business. It recently completed a research study for a major oil company. It has also done Latino research for Ford Motor Co. And it said its surveys for the radio station have resulted in some surprising findings that could be of interest to advertisers.

For example, more than 800 Latinos were asked what Latino holiday they considered most important. Although the most widely known Latino holiday among Americans may be Cinco de Mayo (the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla fought against the French in 1862, when outnumbered Mexican troops held off a French expeditionary force on its way to Mexico City), some 65% of the Latinos surveyed said that Sept. 16th--Mexico’s independence day--is the most important holiday.

Thinking Big Is New Agency’s Specialty

Several years ago, he helped create the ad campaign that has actor Dennis Weaver equating Great Western bank’s size with mountain ranges. And before that, he worked on the “American storyteller” advertising campaign for the Eastman Kodak disc camera--one of the biggest launches of a new camera ever.

Indeed, Andy Romano thinks he’s still full of big ideas. So much so, in fact, that the former creative director at the ad firm J. Walter Thompson has just opened a Santa Monica agency, Sterling Advertising, that specializes in one thing only: big ideas.

The 2-month-old agency charges a flat $1,000 to $2,500 daily fee to come up with bang-up advertising and marketing ideas. “Advertisers get pretty terrible ideas from their ad agencies,” Romano said. “Most agencies are only good at one thing--buying media time.”

But Sterling won’t even buy TV or radio time for most of the advertisers that it represents. “Some clients don’t want all that rigmarole,” Romano said, “they just want a good idea.”

Politics Boost Radio Ad Revenue in Southland

While Los Angeles area commuters are hearing all those political ads on their car radios, the people who own the local radio stations are mostly hearing the cash registers ring.

Radio ad revenue almost always picks up during election years, and this one is no exception, said Gordon Mason, executive director of the Southern California Broadcasters Assn., an industry trade group. Indeed, the association estimates that advertising revenue for Southern California radio stations will reach a record $362 million this year, an estimated 15% more than last year.

“Presidential election years are always a boon to Los Angeles radio revenues,” said Mason, “and what’s especially amazing about that is that you have to consider that these candidates all bargain for the lowest possible rates.”