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Bad Timing Awards

Nothing like the worst riot in U.S. history to turn long-planned promotional campaigns into ill-timed ones.

At Disneyland the slogan, “Be There When the Night Ignites,” was abruptly dropped for its new “Fantasmic” special effects show. (Rival Universal Studios not long ago had a “The Riot Act” stunt show, but the name was dropped last summer.)

An ad last week in the trade publication Advertising Age from Turner Program Syndication showed actor Carroll O’Connor of television’s “In the Heat of the Night” standing in front of a building engulfed in flames. Across the top of the ad it read: “All Across America, The Heat Is On.”

But the hands-down winner is clothing retailer Benetton, known for its “shock ads.” As the accompanying picture shows, the Benetton billboard at La Cienega and San Vicente boulevards should cause a few double takes among motorists.

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But Wait, There’s More. . .

Then there was the battle of the press releases.

No sooner had the riots quieted down than companies began churning out riot-related announcements, some bordering on outright promotional stunts. Getting the most press clearly was Frederick’s of Hollywood’s $1,000 reward for Madonna’s “irreplaceable” bustier stolen from its lingerie museum.

But others went overlooked, such as the donation of 1,638 cases of water to victims by Evian, thirst quencher to the stars.

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Then there was Domino’s Pizza, which disclosed that at the request of Mayor Tom Bradley’s office more than 500 pizzas were delivered (with National Guard help) to riot victims and volunteers, proving it’s easier for the city to order pizzas into a riot area than it is police.

Presumably, the mayor’s office paved the way with an emergency order granting Domino’s a waiver on its guarantee to deliver within 30 minutes.

A Vendetta or Hype?

Just like in the old American Express ads, best-selling author Bryan Burrough may as well have been asking “Do you know me?” at a signing last week in New York for his new book “Vendetta.”

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Burrough’s book, which details a smear campaign against international banker Edmond Safra by some American Express employees, has rankled the company, which says accounts linking Chairman James D. Robinson III to the scandal are untrue.

In any event, Burrough was scheduled to sign books during the lunch hour Thursday at the Rizzoli book store in the World Financial Center complex, which happens to be the same place where American Express makes its headquarters.

Burrough’s publicist said the book signing was sparsely attended, blaming a lack of advance promotion caused by pressure American Express put on the store.

Rizzoli executives couldn’t be reached, but American Express chief spokesman, Lawrence Armour, calls the allegation a distortion. He conceded American Express has been grumbling that Rizzoli hasn’t been “neighborly” by scheduling the book signing and also for advertising in a promotional newsletter for building merchants another book critical of American Express called “House of Cards.”

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Armour added that American Express has no influence over the Rizzoli store and knows that any attempt to quash something like a book signing would only backfire. “I’m smart enough to know this is exactly the kind of thing that (book publisher) HarperCollins would like to blow up into an issue,” Armour said.

Briefly. . .

Video no-show: The White House, citing a scheduling conflict, has canceled a talk President Bush was to make this week via video hook-up to a California Bankers Assn. convention in Long Beach. . .A New York hat company boasts a trademark on “P.O.P,” with stands for “Personal Ozone Protection”. . .In the wake of the verdict in the Rodney G. King beating case, a nonprofit group in Indianapolis is selling a T-shirt that blends the name “Los Angeles” with “Johannesburg.”


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