MARKETING : Corporations Capitalize on Inauguration

The television cameras zoom in on those Budweiser Clydesdales. You know, the giant draft horses that are about as familiar to Americans as beer symbols as, well, wooden kegs.

Perhaps this sounds like a march down Main Street for a small-town New Year's Day fest. Guess again. We're talking the presidential inauguration.

As they did in 1989, the Clydesdales will pull Budweiser's four-ton beer wagon--with the brewery's name etched across the side--down Pennsylvania Avenue on Jan. 20th. This time, however, it will be President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore and their waving families reviewing the beer-party-on-wheels. Quite an image: the new President giving pause to the king of beers.

Critics say this is how far the world of marketing and public relations has come--even leaving its footprints on the inauguration. Sure, it is now commonplace for big firms to strut their stuff in high-profile events that thrive on corporate sponsorships--such as the upcoming Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena. But even some top PR veterans say that they are chagrined by the creeping commercialism of the presidential inaugural.

"It belittles the presidency," says Edward L. Bernays, the 101-year-old consultant often credited with inventing the public relations profession. "People with good taste would realize this sort of thing is an imposition. People with no taste wouldn't worry about it."

Want a "temporary" tattoo that shows Clinton's name inside a heart? You can get it for two bucks at the Inaugural Commemoratives shop in Washington, as well as through catalogue mail orders. Or how about $6 yo-yos with the official inaugural seal--made of recycled plastic, of course. Not to forget the $48 crystal ornaments, courtesy of the fine china maker, Lenox.

Some critics are especially outspoken. "The inaugural should not be for sale--nor is the presidency supposed to be," says George Gerbner, professor of communications at the University of Pennsylvania. "This is commercialism that is very, very dangerous."

Why would any marketer want to be linked with the inauguration? "If you're associated with the new President, you're trying to underscore the fact that you're in," says Edward H. Vick, chief executive of Landor Associates, a San Francisco corporate identity firm. "That's a driving force behind marketing: Our product is in, and your product is not."

Budweiser is one of several corporate sponsors that has tied its product to the celebration. "We have nothing to be embarrassed about," says Michael J. Owens, director of Budweiser marketing. In both cases, he notes, the company was asked to participate. "The horses don't just represent Anheuser-Busch, but also pride, heritage and tradition. Those qualities closely match up with the inaugural."

Budweiser could reap free television exposure worth more than $1 million from its association with the inauguration, estimates Joyce Julius Cotman, president of Ann Arbor, Mich.-based, Joyce Julius & Associates, an event marketing firm that tracks the value of free TV exposure. "The Clydesdales cannot be mistaken as anything else," she says.

The three big American car makers will also have a presence in the parade. General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp. are loaning nearly 500 cars that each hopes will catch the camera's eye.

"An event with this high visibility is a real marketing opportunity," says William H. Noack, a Washington-based General Motors spokesman, who notes that GM has loaned the inaugural committee 220 vehicles, from Cadillacs to Chevy Blazers. "This also gives us the chance to put our cars in the hands of people who may later choose to be GM customers."

Ford, meanwhile, has 165 cars on loan to the inauguration. But a Ford spokesman says it is "85% public service and 15% promotion." Nevertheless, Ford clearly had at least one eye on getting attention when it placed cars using four types of alternative fuels with the inauguration--including Ford Taurus cars fueled by methanol and Crown Victorias that run on natural gas.

Meanwhile, Chrysler is lending 85 cars to the inaugural committee. Its actions, in part, are defensive, explains Chrysler spokesman Tom Houston: "You would become noticeable by your absence in something like this."

While Mickey Mouse won't be marching in the inaugural parade, Disney has found a way to link up with the inauguration. The Disney Channel--normally available only to pay subscribers--plans to unscramble its signal for several hours and to broadcast for all cable TV viewers two inauguration-related shows from the Kennedy Center aimed at preteens and teen-agers.

John Cooke, president of the Disney Channel, says the company will not specifically market itself to potential new subscribers during the two shows. But, he notes, "we're clearly in the business of programming for families, and this is right down our alley."

Several other big names in entertainment--particularly popular with youngsters--have been invited to strut their stuff at the inauguration. The Muppets from Jim Henson Productions and Barney from PBS' hit kids show, "Barney and Friends," are both expected to take part.

Rogers & Cowan, a Los Angeles public relations firm that specializes in entertainment, has some key clients participating in the inauguration--including Quincy Jones and Kenny Rogers. As a result, it also plans to send several publicists there to keep its clients in the news.

"Everything will be publicity driven," Thomas A. Tardio, the firm's president, says. "The object is to get them exposure and proper positioning."

Briefly . . .

Los Angeles-based Thermador, a kitchen appliance maker, has handed its $1.5-million ad account to the Irvine-based agency deYoung, Ginsberg, Weisman, Bailey. . . . The Automobile Club of Southern California has awarded its $5-million account to Los Angeles-based Ogilvy & Mather Direct. . . . The Los Angeles office of Wells, Rich, Green BDDP, which last week lost the $35-million MGM media-buying business, says it has joined the chase for the $20-million Savoy Pictures account. . . . A Wal-Mart spokesman strongly denies that the retail chain--which was harshly criticized in a recent NBC News report--organized a supportive national ad campaign by several vendors. . . . A promotional cigarette lighter for Marlboro from Philip Morris USA and Polyflame Concepts USA has been voluntarily recalled by the companies after complaints from consumer groups that the lighter attracts children. . . . Avon will launch a campaign that tries to replace its door-to-door marketing image with a new pitch that asks customers to buy products via toll-free telephone numbers.

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