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Ad Firm Executives Find Creativity Playing Second Fiddle to Sensitivity

It’s tough enough to be creative in good times. Now, with the Persian Gulf War raging, those who create ads face a host of roadblocks in developing new ads--and airing current ones.

“We’re closely looking at all creative work to see if any of it might not match the mood of the country,” said Steve Hayden, chairman and chief creative officer at the ad firm BBDO/Los Angeles. “Every piece of copy going out of here we look at in context of the war.”

Shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait, BBDO scrapped production of an Apple Computer print ad that featured a Russian soldier removing his uniform and throwing down his rifle.

“It would have been a good ad except for the fact that thousands of Americans are now putting on their uniforms and picking up rifles,” Hayden said. “We’ll probably never run the ad because the situation in the world has changed.”

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Plenty of other ad firms are experiencing similar headaches as creativity must play second fiddle to an even larger issue: sensitivity.

At HDM/Los Angeles, the agency was just beginning to develop a new campaign for a portable cassette player made by client Sanyo. At one point, the creative staff even discussed making a tongue-in-cheek ad that showed how the machine was so powerful it could “blow you apart.” The concept was to show a person listening to the boom box who is literally blown to pieces.

That idea, of course, was trashed. “We’re avoiding any metaphors or analogies that can be construed as statements of war,” said Lee Kovel, chairman and executive creative director. “These days you don’t make puns about bombs, battles, explosives or the military.”

Another print ad that HDM created for Suzuki last year showed a motorcycle standing in front of five missiles stacked atop one another. “Ours is more comfortable,” says the headline, which seems to compare the motorcycle to the missiles. “It was a successful campaign,” said Kovel, “but obviously it would be inappropriate to run now.”

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Likewise, the agency Foote, Cone & Belding created a print ad for Mazda that compared Mazda trucks to tanks. The ad, which featured a tank, ran once in some truck enthusiast magazines.

“We were in production of the ad when Hussein moved into Kuwait,” said Larry Kopald, executive creative director at FCB/Los Angeles. “The ad is sitting on a shelf now. I can guarantee you, it will never run.”

The conflict in the Middle East is forcing ad agency creatives to “put a different set of glasses on,” said Larry Postaer, executive vice president and creative director at Rubin Postaer & Associates, which creates Honda ads. “We’re searching our memory banks over what we’ve produced in recent months. If we need to, we’ll do some judicious, prudent editing.”

Despite the Persian Gulf War, consumer electronics chain Silo has continued to air a campaign that uses military allusions. Back in September, when Silo first opened stores in the Los Angeles area, it gained plenty of attention by startling consumers with ads that warned: They’re putting Silos in the Southland.

Although those ads have ceased, the chain continues to run ads with the line, “I feel better with a Silo nearby.”

The agency that created the campaign, Saatchi & Saatchi DFS Pacific, says since the Persian Gulf War began, it has had discussions with Silo about the tone of the campaign. “If they were to get a lot of phone calls from people complaining about the ads, I’m sure we’d look into changing them,” said Monte Zator, vice president and management supervisor at Saatchi. “But that hasn’t happened.”

The Los Angeles ad firm that creates ads for Arco has also had numerous discussions lately with its client. “It’s an hour-by-hour situation,” said Jean Craig, president and executive creative director at Kresser/Craig. “If some oil facility gets blown up, it might require immediate reaction. Then we might have to run ads that ask people not to panic and remind them that we have enough gasoline.”

Although Grey Advertising’s Los Angeles office hasn’t changed any ad themes because of the war, it did postpone a press conference that was scheduled this week to kick off a new campaign for client Coldwell Banker’s Residential Group. “The campaign theme is appropriate,” said Alan Kupchick, president and executive creative director. “But to try to generate any press coverage around it at this time is not a good idea.”

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L.A. Agency Loses Two Clients in One Week

For the Los Angeles office of Evans Advertising, last week was the pits.

The agency found out it lost two clients: the estimated $2-million Pebble Beach Co. golf course and resort advertising business, and the estimated $2-million Gund Inc. stuffed animal business. Evans had only handled Pebble Beach for about six months, and it inherited the Gund toy business when it purchased the firm Scott Lancaster Mills Atha last year.

“I feel as if I’ve been kicked in the head twice,” said Jim Winters, chairman of Evans/Los Angeles. “But in neither case was it because the agency did bad work.” Pebble Beach Co. decided to change agencies after recently being sold to Ben Hogan Properties, a company owned by Japanese developer Minoru Istani. And Gund has greatly scaled back its advertising in an economy where toy sales are very soft.

The agency may lay off up to eight people because of the two account losses, Winters said.

Tiny S.F. Firms Lands $10-Million Account

Lots of Los Angeles ad firms chased after the annual $10-million Money Store account, but it was a tiny San Francisco ad shop that won the business on Monday.

Atlas Citron Haligman & Bedecarre, an agency founded just 10 months ago by four former executives from Hal Riney & Partners, will produce TV commercials to be aired in test markets for the Sacramento-based home equity lender.

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“This will double our size,” said Jeff Atlas, chairman of the agency, which will see its annual billings jump from $10 million to $20 million. The agency now has seven clients, and even with Monday’s large win the firm may only hire a few additional employees, Atlas said.

Seattle Agency Wins Business From L.A.

More than Californians are moving to Seattle these days. Some ad business from a Los Angeles agency is moving there too.

Last week HDM/Los Angeles lost a big chunk of the Westin Hotels & Resorts ad business when the chain’s estimated $4-million corporate ad account was handed to the Seattle ad firm Cole & Weber.

“We need a local agency,” said Michael Corr, senior vice president of marketing at Seattle-based Westin. “That’s what drove the decision.”


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