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Fur Flies Over Campaign to Popularize Mink Coats

September 15, 1987|BRUCE HOROVITZ

It has been used to sell diet pills, wrinkle creams and baldness remedies. And now, mink.

In a bid to grab the young, middle-class woman by her furless collar, the people who sell mink have turned to before-and-after advertising.

Before: a sour-faced character who looks like she just went five rounds with a Mixmaster. After: a stylish model with a Vanna White-sized smile. The difference: In the "after" shot, she's wrapped in mink.

The woman hasn't had a makeover. Instead, the ad says, she's had a "minkover."

That, at least, is what Mink International, a group of international furriers headquartered in Copenhagen, wants American women between 18 and 35 to think.

What's being sold isn't just the hides of these dark brown, weasel-like creatures that are raised by the thousands in mink farms. What's being sold is image. And Mink International is pushing hard to create an image of mink as being about as hip as Reeboks.

"For years, young women have thought that mink is for their mothers, but that's just not the case," said Bernie Owett, creative director at J. Walter Thompson, the New York advertising agency that developed the campaign.

Mink sales are off in a number of nations, but they are rising in the United States. Last year, fur sales in the United States--the majority of which are mink--exceeded $1.5 billion. Although ad campaigns of recent years failed to lure many men or young children into wearing mink, advertisers are now convinced that they can coax secretaries and college co-eds to try mink on for size.

The before-and-after mink ads began appearing this month in women's magazines from Cosmopolitan to Vogue. The association is timing its ads to run during the biggest fur-buying season, September through December.

Instead of long mink coats, however, the women are shown wearing less expensive jacket-length minks. These shorter furs can cost $1,500 compared to upwards of $6,000 for full-length minks. The object, said a spokesperson for the Mink International group, "is to persuade more young women to minkover."

There is, of course, a continuing stink over mink. Animal rights groups abhor the ads. And one of their best-known spokesmen, game show host Bob Barker, says the ads should be banned.

"J. Walter Thompson can paint this beautiful picture," said Barker, who hosts "The Price is Right," "but if the women who wear furs really understood the suffering that went into creating them, they would not even have them in their homes." In February, Barker publicly convinced officials of the Miss USA Pageant, which he hosts, to replace the real furs worn by contestants with fake furs.

"Wearing furs is an appalling method of displaying affluence," said Barker, in an interview. "If a woman wants to show how much money she has, she should buy a cloth coat and pin all of her money onto it."

Michael Jackson Goes Macho in Ad

Add one part hype and four parts Michael Jackson. The result is the latest set of ads that the singer-in-search-of-a-comeback has filmed for Pepsi-Cola.

But don't expect to see the four-part commercial anytime soon, Pepsi said Monday. Created by the New York ad firm BBDO Worldwide and filmed by sought-after Venice director Joe Pytka, the ads won't air until late winter or early spring--about the time Jackson's current world tour is expected to reach the United States.

The new commercial tries to portray Jackson as a macho guy who fights his way out of a number of harrowing situations. "This is a much more adult and masculine Michael Jackson," said Rebecca Madeira, a Pepsi spokeswoman.

Monday's announcement is not the first time Pepsi has teased the public with word of its Jackson commercials. Last spring, Pepsi showed snippets of a commercial called "Backstage," which has yet to air. Said Madeira: "The public will tell us when it wants to see the ads."

Less Time for Monkee Business

A Monkee has been launched into space.

Mickey Dolenz, a member of the Monkees rock band, is behind the camera these days directing advertisements for a 4-year-old, nonprofit outfit, the United States Space Foundation, which calls itself a "space education foundation."

It is, however, primarily financed by aerospace giants such as McDonnell Douglas and Boeing.

Although the Monkees have spent the summer giving reunion concerts in a nationwide tour, Dolenz kept slipping away to direct a series of ads for Burbank-based Harmony Pictures, one of the largest independent production companies on the West Coast.

"I don't consider myself an entertainer anymore," said the 41-year-old Dolenz in a telephone interview before a concert in Seattle. "Directing is what I do now." Although Dolenz has been directing ads for 14 years, most of them were filmed and aired only in England. Now, he wants to take his ad directing career to where the money is: the U.S. market.

Besides, Dolenz says, he's a big fan of the troubled space program. "Keep in mind," he said, "the campaign is not to promote NASA or the Star Wars defense program." The ads focus on the medical benefits of space research.

He expects that the ads will generate plenty of attention, too, because the public service spots star a number of big-name celebrities. The campaign, created by the Warren, Mich.-based ad firm Campbell Ewald Co., gets polar opposites to agree--at least on camera--about the need for space research. Among them: Jesse Jackson and Barry Goldwater, Gloria Steinem and Charlton Heston, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Willie Shoemaker.

Because of their height differences, the spot with the 7-foot, 2-inch tall Jabbar and the 4-foot, 11-inch Shoemaker was among the most difficult to film, Dolenz said. "I couldn't find a camera lens to get them both in the same spot," he said. "So finally, we had to stand Willie on an apple crate."

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