Three days after the war in Iraq began, District-based ad agency Hammer Communications met with its client, Landover-based Washington Homes, to discuss the phrasing of the slogan for its upcoming patriotic-themed campaign. They decided to scrap "Celebrate America," in favor of "Own Your Piece of the America Dream."
The ads, which are to run from May to July in newspapers, magazines, new-home guides and direct mail, feature a succession of photos with slices of Americana -- a couple embraced in front of an American flag, a close-up of cherry blossoms in front of the Washington Monument, a relaxed young girl on a recliner.
So what's the worry?
"We felt we could use the red, white and blue imagery, but we didn't feel the word 'celebrate' was appropriate at this point in time," said Jack Shoptaw, Hammer's president. "We all agreed we needed to change it."
The homebuilder wanted to veer away from any misperception that it was taking a position on the war, said Dee J. Minich, Washington Homes senior vice president of sales and marketing.
"People want security and buying a home is a form of security to them," Minich said. "We wouldn't design any of our ads around the war, but at the same time, it's a little patriotic. We have to be sensitive to all people -- people who are patriotic, people who are over in the war and their families, and people who are against the war."
It shows just how sensitive marketers and advertising agencies are about the potential to offend viewers in wartime, taking their decisions well beyond the questions of whether to keep advertising or not. "I think advertisers are trying to figure out what the mood of the public is," said Steven J. Fredericks, president of CMR/TNS Media Intelligence, a New York industry data tracking firm.
The New York Lottery, for example, pulled a TV ad this month that featured the Grim Reaper. Other advertisers have struck inserted American flag displays, almost inconspicuously at times so as not to offend any viewers.
At Adworks in the District, a handful of clients have removed their on-air ads, eschewing any connection to the proliferation of war coverage, said Mark Greenspun, the agency's creative director. The impact of the dropped ads on the agency's revenue is minimal, he said.
"I think they are waiting for the emotional climate to change," Greenspun said. "In their minds, they'll be better off if they stay dark for a while and then come back."
Other companies and advertisers have recently released ads with a direct tie-in with the war. Herndon-based Air Line Pilots Association launched full-page ads last week in USA Today and Roll Call, a newspaper targeting workers and legislators on Capitol Hill, to salute commercial pilots participating in the war. Government contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., whose customers include the Defense Department, began a radio spot salute to the military and started a TV ad displaying a series of photos of servicemen taken by a Lockheed photographer. The company has pulled most of its existing print ads from national publications, spokeswoman Meghan Mariman said.
"We believe that the focus should be on the customer rather than on [Lockheed] platforms or programs," Mariman said. "The ads express our gratitude, that we want to help our customers complete their mission."
If the war is prolonged, it could produce a few scenarios for advertising firms, Fredericks said. On one hand, agencies could suffer a loss of millions of dollars in revenue from the removal of ads from newspapers, magazines and broadcast networks. He quoted an industry estimate that ad revenue losses reached as high as $100 million during the first five days of the Iraqi war. That compares with an advertising revenue loss of $85 million the week after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
On the other hand, the public's demand for an alternative to war news could boost advertising, Fredericks said.
"If [the war] was over in the first week, one would argue that whatever loss in advertising expenditures there was would probably be absorbed," Fredericks said. "Obviously, the scenario of being over in a week is not happening. The longer it goes on, the more difficult it is to make up the shortfall. On the other hand, the longer it goes on, the more there's an attempt to get back to normalcy."
The impact of the war could have been lightened by some marketers' expectations that it would begin and end quickly, much like the Gulf War in 1991, Greenspun said. While there have been casualties, the war news has not been drastically dire.
"Overall, the impact on advertising has not been as great as it might have been," he said. "Up until now, it's been a relatively short period of time, and the news is pretty good."
Ads and Ends
Rockville-based public relations firm Matthews Media Group Inc. created three divisions: therapeutic, public relations/communications and client services, to serve its health-care customers. The therapeutic division specializes in assisting clients with treatment development, including the recruitment of patients for clinical trials. The public relations/communications division's services include branding, health education campaigns and media training, and the client service division offers in-house graphic design, advertising, strategic materials design and other programs. . . . SheaHedges Group of McLean, a business communications firm, announced several new clients that represent about $400,000 in new business this year. They include Baltimore-based BulkRegister LLC, a domain name registrar; Ease Technologies, a Columbia-based information technology consulting firm; and Gaithersburg-based Iomai Corp., a biopharmaceutical company. . . . District-based advertising and public relations agency Davis & Co. won an account with the National Soft Drink Association to manage an advertising and public relations campaign to encourage recycling of soft drink bottles and cans. The campaign will be launched this spring in test markets in Pittsburgh and the Hampton Roads area in Virginia. After the six-month test, the Soft Drink Association plans to consider a national rollout. . . . White & Baldacci of Herndon won an ad account with Wintergreen Resort. The agency will work with Wintergreen to market the resort as a business conference center and a regional leisure, golf and ski resort. . . . District-based advertising firm MDB Communications hired J. Scott Punk as senior director. Punk will manage MDB's public relations services. He previously worked for public relations agency Hill & Knowlton. . . . The Greater Washington Board of Trade launched a sports and entertainment task force to promote the region as a center of sports activities. The task force's agenda for this year includes exploring the creation of a Washington Regional Sports Commission that would lobby to bring major athletic events to the area. . . . Baltimore-based Eisner Communications won 33 Baltimore Addy Awards last month. Eisner's clients include US Airways, Maryland State Lottery, Johns Hopkins Medicine and Taubman Co. . . . The Advertising Club of Metropolitan Washington plans to hold its annual Addy Awards gala at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Sheraton Premiere at Tysons Corner, 8661 Leesburg Pike, Vienna. The Web site www.dcadclub.com has more information. The club also plans the session, "How to Improve Your New Business Pitching Success," from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. April 29 at the City Club at Franklin Square, 1300 I St. NW, Washington. The presenters are Michael Claggett and Charlie Claggett of the Claggett Consulting Group. The cost is $40 for Ad Club members and $60 for non-members. Call 703-683-5954 for information.
Sabrina Jones writes about the local advertising and marketing industry every other Monday in Washington Business. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.