In San Francisco, they're calling it the War of the Rices.
Thomas J. Lipton Inc. fired the first shot earlier this year when it placed advertising billboards touting its line of flavored rice dishes on the sides of 24 of the city's antiquated cable cars.
"Now for a real treat," the ads proclaim--a none-too-subtle dig at Rice-A-Roni, the rice dish that for years promoted itself as "the San Francisco treat."
The maker of Rice-A-Roni is unamused. "The cable cars are an integral part of our heritage and our advertising position," says Sandy Posa, vice president for marketing for Golden Grain Macaroni Co., bought in 1986 by Quaker Oats. "We consider them ours."
Lipton may have been taking advantage of the year-and-a-half hiatus in TV ads for Rice-A-Roni after Quaker unveiled--and quickly abandoned--a new campaign that played down the cable cars.
Posa promises that a forthcoming TV campaign will "bring back all the old imagery."
Ted Labiner, Lipton's director of creative services, says he doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. "We're just trying to sell some rice," he deadpans. "Rice-A-Roni is now owned by a Chicago company. It seems to me they've lost their California heritage."