- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 25, 2001

Advertisers have raised Old Glory, and Lady Liberty too: The oft-shallow world of American promotional culture has had a patriotic awakening in past weeks as it searches for a proper but profitable wartime footing.

It is a tricky business. Offer a touching image of the flag and consumers approve. Sell something with it and they just plain revolt.

Which was the case at the Seattle Times. At a time when many newspapers had tucked a free printed American flag into their pages, the Times featured a $15, glossy reproduction of its Sept. 11 front page as a kind of collectible, just a day after the terrorist attack. Readers accused the daily of trying to profit from tragedy with a "cheap souvenir."

Not so, countered Editor Michael Fancher. Some people, he said, "want them as a piece of history."

History spells charity to some.

A 300-page instant book is already in the works. Titled "09/11 8:48 AM," it will be published by Book Surge on Sept. 30 and is said to be in "raw style."

Wisely, the company is donating all profits to the Red Cross. HarperCollins will publish "God Bless America" later this year, also donating profits to charity.

Clothing store Old Navy is printing a special edition flag T-shirt minus its company logo, donating the $5 purchase price to the United Way.

Sensitivity rules elsewhere.

National ad campaigns for Sears, Kmart, General Electric and Lockheed Martin have homed in on the flag or the Statue of Liberty, incorporating only a minuscule logo or none at all. Anheuser-Busch will soon replace 250 of its billboards and stadium signs with an American flag, with no brand name or company identification whatsoever.

In the difficult days after the attack, businesses like Subway responded with appropriate gravitas, offering a message of condolence in simple black and white, with no images whatsoever.

Meanwhile, the old materialistic marketplace may have changed forever.

"Things that might have worked on Sept. 10 are no longer valid," said George Gendron, editor of Inc. magazine. "It has become time to turn down the volume, to develop a new set of eyes. Everyone in the public relations field and the media is struggling with it."

Stories, graphics and even captions are now triple-checked at the magazine, Mr. Gendron said. "We have formed a sensitivity committee to determine what's appropriate to go out with our brand on it."

His caution is well-founded. To the dismay of some readers and advertisers alike, People magazine kept ads in its Sept. 11-based issue, with inopportune pairings of sassy commercial pitches and tragic news photos.

"We had only a scant, few hours to respond to catastrophic events, and we did the best we could," noted a spokeswoman.

Still, many businesses altered ad campaigns or canceled them altogether out of sympathy or fear of offending a public riveted by days of commercial-free news coverage. More than $1 billion in advertising may have been lost in those four days, according to initial industry estimates.

Some companies are finding a reinvented voice with "Buy American" themes, particularly automakers. Both GM and Ford have opted to offer zero percent financing with new campaigns called "Keep America Rolling" and "Ford Drives America," respectively.

But high hopes remain in the marketing community. "What kind of advertising should we do?" asked an Adweek editorial yesterday. "The proper response is defiant normalism if we want consumers to have confidence, we have to be confident."

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