White House Follies: Scriptgate Makes Ripples on Madison Ave.
The big advertising scandal dubbed “scriptgate” by media wags has come and gone as quickly as a 30-second dot.com plug. ShopTalk refers, of course, to the ballyhoo surrounding some new dirt (or is it old soil?), namely that the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which has been previewing TV scripts and offering monetary rewards for anti-drug messages.
Three years ago, Congress approved a program to produce anti-drug campaigns for TV in which networks were asked to match government media buys with twofers, i.e., free slots. Reportedly at the time, there were avails aplenty and networks were happy to donate to a worthy cause.
However, with the boom in e-commerce advertising, networks were concerned about losing revenue. So they struck a deal with the ONDCP in which the match would involve government-approved anti-drug themes in shows like Home Improvement.
The story set off a firestorm in the press, but virtual silence in the ad world. Ogilvy & Mather in New York, an ONDCP shop, was quick to respond with a press release justifying the arrangement: “This process has been very productive because the networks receive technical assistance, which results in the accurate depiction of drug use and its consequences,” it read.
Other agency executives contacted by ShopTalk were not as sanguine. “This is really a case of big brother getting into your pants,” says one exec, who wished to remain anonymous. “Hey, I’d like to get some of that ONDCP business, too.”
Jeff Loeb, principal and creative director of Katsin Loeb Advertising in San Francisco, appeared on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. “I told them it was a unique thing,” says Loeb in a telephone interview. “I’ve heard of product placement before, but I’ve never heard of anti-product placement.”
Sharing the limelight with Dr. Donald Vereen, deputy director of the ONDCP, Loeb waxed
pessimistic on the show: “It looks collusive; it looks bad,” he said. “It makes people in my business wonder, Are things going to get harder for us to be credible [with] the messages we put out?”
Loeb also wondered, where do you draw the line? “[What if] there’s a conservative administration that comes in and says it’s OK to do it for anti-abortion?”
Dr. Vereen, who defended the scheme, was asked if there are other messages, such as anti-tobacco, that are being placed by the government in television programming. “I’m sure there are,” he replied.
Days after the broadcast, the White House announced it was ending the practice and will review shows after they air, instead of before, to determine anti-drug messages and their monetary value. Loeb says this is a reasonable compromise. But he cautions: “A precedent has been set.”
Blade Runner Redux
Is nothing sacred? In the Bay Area, they are offering the shirts on people’s backs for strategic media buys. No, actually, they are offering the people themselves.
Consider this: the New York-based media buying agency KSL was looking for a clever way to promote Flycast, an online advertising and media consultancy. They approached Adwheels, an outdoor promotions shop in Washington, D.C., which fitted in-line skaters with flat-screen computers and then sent them scurrying through the streets of San Francisco.
“This is the sandwich board for the millennium,” says Rob Finfer, Adwheels COO. “There is nothing more interactive then someone standing in front of you with a screen.” Especially if they don’t get out of your way.
In Los Angeles, several young entrepeneurs are launching Adcarus, a company that places ads on, yes, personal cars. Shop founder Won Kim, 27, tells ShopTalk that Adcarus is now seeking clients: “Only Fortune 1000 companies, no mom-and-pop businesses.”
Sticker ads will be glued on doors, hoods and rear windows. Drivers and their vehicles will be screened thoroughly, no suspended licenses or faulty steering columns allowed. A base pay rate for drivers with ordinary car models in decent shape is $25 a month for two side doors and $5 for a rear bumper.
“A Mercedes would get a higher bid than, say, a Chevy Malibu,” adds Kim. K
Quote: “Yes, and I hear smoke signals are coming back, too.”
An Ogilvyism by Bill Gray, co-president of Ogilvy & Mather in New York, on the resurgence of outdoor advertising