Groups representing women and California Muslims demanded Friday that the Los Angeles Times pull parts of a new advertising campaign, contending that the message is offensive. The Times' first multimedia campaign in four years is scheduled to begin Sunday.
Protests were lodged by a local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Los Angeles office of the Feminist Majority Foundation. The organizations were angered by ads that juxtapose images of Southern California life with scenes representing Muslim societies. One ad has a picture of bikini-clad women next to one of women in Islamic attire. Another shows a Southern California traffic jam alongside Pakistani army tanks.
The ads, created by Marina del Rey-based agency Ground Zero, will begin appearing this weekend on billboards, in print and on television. The ads are part of an overall $15-million marketing push by The Times designed to build readership and are tied together by a slogan, "Connecting Us to The Times."
"The content of newspapers is designed to be impactful and insightful, and it seems that their ads should be as well," said Ground Zero Creative Partner Court Crandall. "It's a campaign that says, 'Here's what's going on in L.A., and here's what's going on around the world.' "
Media reports on the campaign prompted the American-Islamic group to demand that The Times pull three ads the group described as "deeply offensive to the 600,000 Muslims in Southern California."
Jim Helin, a Times senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said he has invited the American-Islamic group's executive director to view the ads Monday.
"I think it's important to note that he's not yet seen them," Helin said. "When he does, he'll recognize there's no intent to make judgments of any kind."
Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Anaheim-based Southern California Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, acknowledged not having seen the ads. He said that based on media coverage, "the message is sadly clear: It's us against them, 'us' being Western civilization, 'them' being Muslims."
Helin said he had not seen the Feminist Majority Foundation complaint.
"There's the question of The Times using women's bodies to sell an unrelated product," said Kathy Spillar, the Los Angeles-based national coordinator of the Feminist Majority Foundation. "What does a bikini have to do with The Times?"
The ads also sparked anger inside The Times, where more than 200 members of the editorial department signed petitions demanding that the ads not run.
Publisher Kathryn Downing said the internal protest will not derail the campaign. "This is not about a unanimous decision. This is the ad campaign we're launching for the Los Angeles Times."
Advertising industry experts noted that the controversy follows others involving The Times in recent months.
"You're coming off the Staples Center fiasco and the fact that L.A. is losing control of one of its great local institutions," said Pete Seeley, adjunct marketing professor at the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business, referring to the newspaper's decision to share ad revenue with the downtown arena, as well as the pending purchase of parent Times Mirror Co. by Tribune Co. of Chicago.
Times staff writers Abigail Goldman and Teresa Watanabe contributed to this report.