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Current Events Give Excite Ads a Sharper Edge

January 29, 1998|Greg Johnson

Excite Corp. hoped that a print and billboard advertisement purporting to analyze President Clinton's handwriting would be topical, what with the tongue-in-cheek references to triple cheeseburgers and medicinal marijuana. But the satirical ad that began running in November got caught up in political intrigue last week after allegations surfaced that the president had engaged in, and then lied about, an affair with a White House intern. In addition to joking about Clinton's interest in foreign investors, Excite's ad suggests that handwriting analysis indicated a presidential desire to "buy lingerie for that special someone." The reference to Clinton's rumored assignations was "a coup of coincidence," said Jim Desrosier, Excite's executive vice president of marketing. "We could have just as easily picked golf. . . . We took a risk with the humor, but it appears that we probably ended up doing the right thing." The ad is still plastered on some Southern California billboards, but even though the print ad stopped running a few days before word of the alleged affair surfaced, some conspiracy-minded consumers have been badgering the company for an apology. "I've been having a dialogue with literally dozens of consumers who've contacted us in the past week," Desrosier said. "They perceive it as us having some sort of political agenda--which there really isn't." The advertisement, which has drawn praise from the advertising industry, prompted an understandably dour response from the White House. Last week Excite's lawyers got what Desrosier described as a "polite but insistent" letter demanding that the ad be pulled. The letter was mailed early in January, but "we didn't receive it until last week," Desrosier said. "They sent it snail mail." The Clinton ad was the first in a series of print and billboard pieces that will use fictional results of handwriting analysis involving other famous names. The ads are designed to illustrate how Excite's Internet services can be tailored to meet individual interests. Desrosier said the company used a "facsimile" of Clinton's signature so it couldn't be used to forge the president's signature. The company said it has no plans to resurrect the advertisement.

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