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2 Big Advertisers Enlist Good Samaritans' Help to Get Messages Across

January 12, 1988|BRUCE HOROVITZ

For 15 years, American Express ads asked: Do you know me? It wasn't until last year, however, that company's researchers asked the public in surveys: Do you know us?

What they found out surprised them.

People knew American Express, all right. They knew it for its highbrow image. They knew it for the relative high cost of its credit cards. And they knew it for its longtime advertising slogan. But few of those who responded knew American Express as a company that cares much about its customers.

"Many viewed us as a company that's successful in issuing cards," said Morris Perlis, executive vice president of the personal card division. "But we view ourselves as much more than that."

So, after investing untold millions of dollars in the "Do you know me?" campaign, the company dropped it cold. Last March, it introduced a new campaign--"Membership has its privileges"--which focused on how much the company says it cares for its customers.

Now, American Express is taking that customer focus one step further with a campaign that shows its customers as good Samaritans. And it isn't the only advertiser to see the value of this. Anheuser-Busch, for example, takes a similar tact in a new Budweiser ad.

Advertising experts say it is hardly a coincidence that ads that depict customers as white knights are now hitting the airwaves. After all, the nation has just weathered a year dotted with scandals. There were the Iran- contra hearings, the Wall Street insider-trading scandals and the PTL Club revelations. Scandals recently have become so pervasive, marketing experts say, that a few advertisers are now trying to attract attention by showing snippets of the nation's good side.

In a series of new ads created by the New York ad firm Ogilvy & Mather, people who carry American Express cards are depicted as the type of folks who go out of their way to help others. In one ad, a caring sort of guy unknowingly loses his wallet when he stops on the highway to help people change a flat tire. But American Express, in turn, comes to his rescue. Because he carries the American Express card, the company temporarily covers the wallet-less executive's overnight hotel bill.

The Budweiser ad, created by the St. Louis office of the ad firm D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, is even called "Helping Hand." On a country road, a wheel falls off of an elderly Amish couple's horse-drawn carriage. Two men in a pickup drive past, but they then come back and help fix the wagon. The two reward themselves by making their next stop a tavern with plenty of Budweiser on tap. "For all the guys who go out of their way," the ad says, "this Bud's for you."

Indeed, with this ad, "Budweiser is focusing more on human values," said Thomas R. Sharbaugh, group brand director for Budweiser. "We're saying that the kind of people who drink Budweiser are the salt of the earth. They are basically good people with uniquely American values."

"This type of ad puts people in a very receptive mood to act kindly to the product," said Donald F. Bruzzone, president of Bruzzone Research, an Alameda, Calif.-based advertising research firm. "These ads can be very, very effective." And the ads can be especially effective during times of scandals and mistrust, said Gary Frazier, associate professor of marketing at USC. "If the people in the ads show concern, this symbolizes that the companies also show concern."

What's more, said Andrew J. Byrne, an El Monte-based advertising consultant, the ads get viewers involved because people identify with the situations. "It invites the viewer right into the picture," he said. "People think, 'gosh, that could happen to me.' "

'L.A. Law' Star Joins Maidenform Lineup

"Lingerie does a lot for a woman. Not to mention what it does for a man."

That is the headline to Maidenform's new print ad campaign that features "L.A. Law" TV star, Corbin Bernsen. Bernsen, who has also filmed several ads for Maidenform, joins actors Michael York and Omar Sharif, who starred in commercials last year created by the ad firm Levine, Huntley, Schmidt & Beaver. Since the campaign began last fall, Maidenform orders are up nearly 20%, compared to a year ago, according to the company.

In Bernsen's TV commercial for Maidenform, scheduled to premiere in March, he says: "Lingerie . . . that's a secret she doesn't share with the world. So sometimes you don't find out. But, then again, sometimes you do."

Burger King Cooks Up Its Biggest Ad Blitz

Watch out McDonald's. Here comes the biggest ad blitz in Burger King's history. And with it comes a new slogan for the perennial No. 2 burger rival.

Burger King's most recent slogan, "Fast food for fast times," has gotten the fast hook by its new ad agency, N. W. Ayer. Sources close to the company say that in just a few weeks, Burger King is expected to start advertising, "We do it the way you do it."

King Named Chief of Agency's L.A. Office

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