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'Happy Birthday to Me' Is Popular Theme That Isn't Celebrated by All

February 02, 1988|BRUCE HOROVITZ

When Thomas Fuelling turned 50 a few years ago, his wife threw him a lollapalooza of a surprise party--complete with a parade in front of his house. Now, his company, Lawry's Food Inc., is turning 50. And Fuelling, who is president and chief executive, figures his company deserves no less of a bash than he received.

To inform the world that Lawry's is half a century old, the Los Angeles company will soon begin an advertising and marketing blitz that will feature everything from flashy ads in Time magazine to price rollbacks at its prime rib restaurants.

Lawry's, however, is not the only advertiser on the block throwing itself a birthday party. In fact, these days it seems that just about every advertiser that can so much as crawl is tickled to let the public know that it has even a hint of heritage. While advertisers say that birthdays give them a good reason to advertise, some marketing experts say that birthday hype is essentially paint-by-number advertising.

"If nothing else," said Richard Potter, a Woodland Hills-based advertising consultant, "birthday ads usually show a weakness in creative efforts."

"It's usually just a gimmick," said Ron Albrecht, creative director at the New York ad firm, Wells, Rich, Greene. "If you're going to do an ad like that, your product better have some real history behind it--and most don't."

Los Angeles Times Thursday February 4, 1988 Home Edition Business Part 4 Page 2 Column 6 Financial Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
An item in Tuesday's Marketing column misidentified Brad A. Ball. He is president of the Los Angeles ad firm Davis, Johnson, Mogul & Colombatto Inc.

But some advertisers insist that the marketing ploy works. When Spam turned 50 years old last summer, Geo. A. Hormel & Co. spent millions of dollars to hype the occasion, even hosting a national Spam cook-off. In recent weeks, massive advertising campaigns have reminded us that Camel cigarettes turned 75 years old, American Toyota has made it to 30, McDonald's Big Mac became a bouncy 20 and even neophyte Hyundai has managed to reach the two-year mark.

Why are so many advertisers pegging multimillion-dollar ad campaigns around the fact that they've each gotten a year older? "Advertisers are always looking for any reason to tell consumers that now is a good time to buy something, not tomorrow," said Potter. "It's kind of like they're saying, 'Sure, it's our birthday, but the treat is on us.' "

In honor of the Big Mac's 20th birthday, McDonald's has called its famous burger "a child of the '60s."

But McDonald's has used the birthday ad routine more than once. In 1985, when the company turned 30 years old, it also pegged an ad campaign around the anniversary theme.

"Longevity in and of itself is meaningless," admits David B. Green, vice president of national marketing at McDonald's. "It's the depth of the relationship that the customer must feel with the company or its product." The most recent McDonald's campaign--showing animated hamburgers celebrating with birthday party favors--was created by the West Coast office of Saatchi & Saatchi DFS. "We tried to give people a reason to come in right now and celebrate," said Brad Ball, president of the firm.

Likewise, R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is spending millions of dollars in a billboard and print advertising blitz to promote the fact that Camel cigarettes has just turned 75. The ads feature an illustration of a camel smoking a cigarette under the headline, "Camel. 75 Years and Still Smokin'. " The company, however, declined to comment on the campaign.

Toyota, meanwhile, is advertising the fact that its been selling cars in America for 30 years. And to celebrate, it's offering buyers special values on some vehicles. "We're reminding consumers that we're not the new kids on the block anymore, like, say, Hyundai or Yugo," said Kurt von Zumwalt, a Toyota spokesman. But Hyundai, nevertheless, recently ran ads to celebrate its second anniversary, and to remind buyers that in that short period, its Excel model has become the top-selling import in America.

"Advertising based on heritage causes people to reflect that the product--whatever it is-- has been a part of their lives," said Thomas Reynolds, a marketing professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. "And it is probably the safest excuse you can find to advertise, because heritage almost always plays in Peoria."

In Mexico, Consumers Don't Hold the Mayo

Picture this: A woman places a glob of mayonnaise atop a chicken drumstick, then gobbles it up with a smile.

An advertisement like this might not impress most Americans. But this ad for Hellmann's mayonnaise does not appear on American television. Rather, it airs only in Mexico, where mayonnaise is often consumed very differently than it is here.

"Hispanics who are first-time consumers in the U.S. market have a far different perspective on how some products are used," said Henry Adams-Esquivel, vice president of a firm called Market Development Inc.

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