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Advertising Agency Looking for ‘Mad Scientist’

Not many ad agencies are in the market for staff scientists.

Rice/Spector is. The quirky, Venice-based firm helps design and engineer off-the-wall magazine print ads that pop out, light up or chatter. Creativity aside, it takes scientific know-how for the agency to produce such upcoming print ads as those that will:

* Include workable, one-shot cardboard cameras that fold to the size of credit cards.

* Light up with the use of tiny solar panels.

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* Become transparent when touched--through the use of special heat-sensitive ink.

* Flash moving ‘headlines’ across a page--a trick made possible by tiny batteries and computer chips.

Several of these print ads are just months away from appearing in consumer publications.

Rice/Spector has already made its mark with inventive ads.

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A print ad it developed for Toyota several years ago unfolded into a three-dimensional picture. A Chrysler ad it created moved like window blinds so readers could see the inside and outside of the van. An ad it engineered for Absolut vodka “talked” with the aid of a silicon chip. And the most recent ad that it helped another agency fashion for Absolut vodka features a real pack of wildflower seeds. It appears in the April issue of Atlantic magazine.

“We bridge the gap between science and marketing,” said Richard Rice, chairman of the agency. ‘Our job is to engineer our way out of the problems that many of these ads have.”

How? “If we had a mad scientist on staff, that would help,” said Rice, who is only half joking. The agency has a part-time scientific consultant--but wants a full-time scientist.

“We’ve become sort of a clearing house for scientists and engineers,” said Donald Spector, president. “People come to us with their ideas and say, ‘How can we use it?’ ”

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Behind all of this is the growing popularity of gee-whiz print advertising that gets readers personally involved. That is why agencies such as Rice/Spector have decided that the road to riches might be to specialize in creating interactive ads that can’t be ignored.

Critics say the ads may be lots of fun--and even garner plenty of attention--but there’s some question about whether they generate into sales. “These aren’t ads,” said Jim Hillson, vice president of the Los Angeles research firm Phase One. “They are toys. Let’s come up with some good selling ideas rather than just creating devices.”

Even Toyota, for whom the agency helped create the highly unusual interactive ad in 1987, isn’t saying whether it boosted sales. The ad featured a 3-D photo of a Toyota Corolla inside a fold-out cardboard viewer. “It’s always difficult to make a direct connection between sales and advertising,” a Toyota spokeswoman said.

But executives at the agency have few doubts about the effectiveness of these ads. That is why four years ago the shop did an about-face and began placing most of its creative efforts into interactive ads and steering away from conventional advertising.

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As a result, it is one of the few agencies in town hiring--not laying off--workers. And Rice expects its staff of 18 and annual billings of $10 million to double within the year.

But why put all this technology into, of all things, advertising? Said Rice: “If you get someone to look at an ad, you’ve done your job.”

Lord Dentsu Wins Another Mexico Client

Lord, Dentsu & Partners/Los Angeles is fast becoming the South-of-the-Border agency.

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Last week, it won the $3-million Mexico City Tourism Trust, beating out two East Coast agencies. It also represents the tourism boards of Acapulco, Los Cabos and Baja Norte.

The campaign will try to position Mexico City as a major capital at par with Paris, Rome and London, said Charles W. Reynolds, Jr., president of the agency. “Where else can you take a short cab ride to pyramids thousands of years old?”

Vons Denies Looking for Another Agency

Is Vons getting ready to shop its advertising business around?

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Officials at Vons flatly deny it. “We are very, very happy with J. Walter Thompson,” a Vons spokeswoman said. “Their newest commercials are dynamite.”

But JWT/Los Angeles, which has been decimated by client defections in recent months, last week lost its key man on the Vons account. He left to join Saatchi & Saatchi DFS, which along with Foote, Cone & Belding and Chiat/-Day/Mojo, are said to be in hot pursuit of the grocery chain.

Briefly . . .

The Los Angeles agency Campbell & Wagman was selected by the Best Foundation for a Drug Free Tomorrow to create a series of anti-drug advertisements . . . The Los Angeles office of the Latino-owned agency Font & Vaamonde was awarded the $2-million Spanish language ad business for Little Caesars Pizza.

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The past year was so lousy in the ad industry that the trade magazine Advertising Age made the unprecedented decision not to name a “Best U.S. Agency of the Year” for 1990.

Meanwhile, rival Adweek selected New York-based Ogilvy & Mather as its “National Agency of the Year.” Adweek also ranked Team One Advertising of El Segundo as the nation’s hottest agency.


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