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MIXED BLESSINGS

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Autumnal Vulnerability, Dial A for Annoyance, Domestic Cows, Etc.

If you want to exploit people's anxieties-and what self-respecting marketer does not?-this is the ideal time of year to do so. The academic calendar is so deeply ingrained in our sensibilities that all the vestigial back-to-school edginess comes welling up each September, no matter how long ago we saw the last of textbooks and teachers' dirty looks. As if to confirm our lurking sense of alarm, the days are getting shorter, the temperature getting colder and the winds getting gustier. If an advertiser can't play on all the free-floating insecurities that beset us now, it might as well close up shop.

It's got to be one of the most hated sounds in modern life: that ear-splitting triad of tones that sounds when you dial a phone number that's been changed. You'd think the phone companies would stop antagonizing their customers by using it at all. Instead, Bell Atlantic makes it the star of one of its commercials that announces NYNEX is now Bell Atlantic. "The party you are trying to reach, NYNEX, is now Bell Atlantic," intones an operatoresque voice. Very funny. Unfortunately, the sound is no more euphonious on TV than it is through a phone receiver. What on earth possesses these people? Arnold Communications of Boston is agency for the campaign.

People used to go to the movies to see movies. That might still be their intention, but now they must sit through an array of commercials before the movie begins. Advertisers have attempted to forestall the exasperation a captive audience might feel by making the commercials especially cinematic and entertaining. Sometimes this technique works; sometimes it merely prolongs the agony. But few advertisers have tailored their messages specifically to the venue in which they're seen. So we doff our usher's caps to Danexx shoes and its agency, Needleman Pilla of New York, for putting the theater into in-theater advertising. Since you're in a darkened room and can't altogether see "the guy in front of you," you can only imagine how disapproving he currently is of your feet and the shoddy shoes in which they're shod. Thus, the ad deftly leverages your fear of giving offense-always a useful ploy.

Laundromats are such hopeful places. You go there with smelly, dirty clothes; you go home with fresh, clean ones (minus a sock). And the machines are surprisingly photogenic, as you can see from an ad for Western Digital (by Poppe Tyson, Los Angeles). Whetting retailers' appetites for the high-capacity product, copy in the ad says it will "allow your customers to buy so much software, they'll need a forklift to get it back to the car."

People are a mixed bag, but cows always seem likable. Perhaps that's because we know people better than we know cows. Anyway, ads for dairy goods seldom go astray by putting cows in the lead roles and relegating people to the chorus. That's what Arizona's Shamrock Farms does as it freshens the notion that you could get fresher milk only by having your own cow. What sort of pet would a cow make? Not such an easy one. We see new owners trying without success to teach their cows to fetch the newspaper, to roll over, to pursue a thrown stick . The cow's one success, if you'd call it that, is the treeing of a bovinophobic mailman. Cramer-Crasselt's Phoenix office created the campaign.