Few Commercials Are Due on Sept. 11

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Advertisers large and small have struggled for weeks with the dilemma of whether or not to advertise on — or near — the Sept. 11 anniversary.

In a rare instance of buyers and sellers seeing eye to eye, many national advertisers and broadcast and cable networks seemed to agree that the anniversary should not be interrupted by commercials.

Those decisions won't come cheap, though. Published estimates have said the anticipated dearth of commercials on the various broadcast and cable networks on Sept. 11 alone could cost somewhere between $50 million and $100 million in lost revenues.

Of course, the ad-sales loss was more devastating a year ago. Various industry sources estimated that $300 million in commercials were yanked to make way for four days and nights of wall-to-wall breaking-news coverage of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and their aftermath.

Initiative Media North America executive vice president and director of national broadcast Tim Spengler said many clients — both at his Los Angeles shop and in general — don't want to advertise on Sept. 11, or during programming airing at other times related to that tragic date.

"They do not want to seem commercial at the wrong time, out of respect for those involved [in that tragedy]," said Spengler. "Many messages are happy or funny — the wrong tone for that time."

Striking a similar note, Optimedia International USA CEO Michael Drexler told The New York Times,
"The feeling is, this is a day to remember and respect, not a day to be commercialized in any way."

Various other ad agencies were unreachable or unwilling to discuss the issue.

'UNSUITABLE' DAY

Programmers are also seeking to strike a respectful tone. In announcing Discovery Networks U.S.'s slate of ad-free, Sept. 11-themed programming, president Billy Campbell said, "Out of respect for our viewers, affiliates and advertisers, we have decided not to accept advertising in any of our programming related to the anniversary of Sept. 11. … [We] feel that advertising would be unsuitable during this time."

The decision affects Discovery's entire stable of networks, including Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, Animal Planet and Discovery Health Network, he noted.

A range of marketers have said they won't run any ads on Sept. 11. They include soft-drink titans PepsiCo Inc. and The Coca Cola Co.; brewers Anheuser-Busch Inc. and Miller Brewing Co.; retailers Target Stores and Sears, Roebuck & Co.; automakers General Motors Corp. and Nissan North America; Dell Computer Corp.; Burger King Corp.; and, not suprisingly, American Airlines and United Airlines. (Sears actually will pull its ads starting on the evening of Sept. 10.)

Those that plan to run spots — such as Ford Motor Co., Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble — intend to steer clear of Sept. 11-themed programming.

On the broadcast side, the Fox network won't accept ads on Sept. 11. Among the other big four, some sponsors are opting to run limited commercials. The Boeing Co. will sponsor NBC's Sept. 11 primetime Concert for America, and Nextel Communications Inc., which sponsored the March debut of CBS's documentary 9/11, will do so again when it repeats.

RANGE OF PLANS

Among news channels, Cable News Network will reduce its commercial load on Sept. 11 (with The New York Stock Exchange among its few major sponsors that day).

Sports programmer ESPN will take commercials on that date, but officials said the stable of networks will accommodate advertisers that want to change their placement or message.

Among those opting for 24-hour ad-free status: national services Fox News Channel and Muchmusic USA and regional networks New York 1 News and CN8: The Comcast Network.

Other networks are opting to drop ads in the morning, to make way for tributes to the victims, such as Scripps Networks' Food Network and Home & Garden Television; the A&E Television Networks services; and Hallmark Channel. Popular-arts network Trio will pre-empt commercials from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Sept. 11.

A RoperASW poll released late last month indicated the viewers are just as uncertain about how to handle the unsettling anniversary. Roper found that 36 percent of 1,100 adults surveyed said that TV commercials should run "as usual," while 25 percent felt ads were OK on programming that isn't related to the anniversary. Another 20 percent said they wanted to see no commercials and 13 percent said they would prefer seeing only public-service spots.

Those most uncomfortable with advertising lived in the Northeast, closer to where the attacks occurred, said Roper.

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