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Marketers Rethinking Violent Ads : Aftermath: Advertisers are pulling some billboards and retooling some campaigns in the wake of L.A.'s riots.

May 14, 1992|BRUCE HOROVITZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Billboards designed to attract attention attracted too much of it in the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots.

As a result, six controversial Benetton billboards were yanked from the Los Angeles area this week, and 10 Paramount Pictures billboards scheduled to be posted in South-Central Los Angeles two weeks ago were placed in other areas of the city.

The Benetton billboards depict a car presumably set afire by terrorists. Paramount's billboards feature a gun-waving Harrison Ford and promote the upcoming action film, "Patriot Games."

Current events can send virtually any highflying promotional campaign spinning to the ground. And Benetton and Paramount aren't the only companies whose marketing plans were affected by the riots.

Disneyland was forced to quash an ad slogan for its new "Fantasmic" special-effects attraction that teased: "Be there when the night ignites." And Universal has said it will retitle the film "Looters"--an action picture that has little relation to the events of recent weeks--and delay its release until after the summer.

Paramount Pictures decided not to post the Ford billboards in South-Central Los Angeles because of fears that the ads could be seen as inflammatory, an executive at Paramount's billboard firm said initially. The billboard firm replaced the ads with socially conscious billboards, such as one from Operation Clean Sweep that proposes, "Let's Come Together and Rebuild L.A."

"It did the city more good to have billboards there that said 'Let's Rebuild L.A.' than boards promoting 'Patriot Games,' " said Nicholas Petralia, an account executive at the billboard firm Patrick Media.

Later, however, Petralia said the movie ads were not erected because of fears for worker safety. A Paramount spokesman concurred.

Patrick Media Group spokesman Eric Rose said the images on the Benetton and Paramount billboards were suddenly inappropriate after the death and destruction from the riots. Benetton agreed.

"We thought it was insensitive to leave up the burning car, which truly reflects what was going on in Los Angeles," said Patricia Saraceni, director of public relations at Benetton. But she denied that consumer complaints were the reason for the removal--although she acknowledged that the company did receive several.

The Benetton ads are being replaced with photos from last year's ad campaign that featured photos portraying racial harmony. The ads show young people from various ethnic backgrounds smiling with their faces painted.

Some advertising executives object to Benetton's action.

"They're wimps for taking it down," said Lee Kovel, chairman of the Los Angeles office of the agency Lord, Dentsu & Partners. "It really fits the brand personality of Benetton. I'm sorry to see they removed it."

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