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This Tommy Hilfiger ad was pulled after White House officials objected

Advertisers finding payoff in Clinton scandals

Web posted on:
Monday, November 02, 1998 6:07:35 PM EST

From Correspondent Jill Brooke

NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Clinton's latest problems have provided plenty of material for comedians, his opponents, and even advertising agencies, which are finding the challenge of creating an ad that plays off the scandal to be a worthwhile venture.

While it may seem like an easy task to create an ad that revolves on the Clinton-Lewinsky affair, it is actually more difficult than it seems. Not only must the ads be clever enough to not offend a consumer, but they can't seem dated.

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"The risk is that it's very topical and (the story) can change daily," says Ad Week columnist Barbara Lippert. "If you're going to invest a lot of money in a TV commercial that you want to run for a few months, you may look like an idiot" before the commercial ends its run.

For this reason, many ads are seen in newspapers or on billboards, media that can sustain a relatively short run.

Then, advertisers must face the fact that some media outlets won't run their spots. "The media has a double standard," says creative director Gregg DiNoto of ad agency DiNoto Lee. "They'll be ruthless going after political people, but by the same token they won't let advertisements run that have politically charged messages."

Still, like the lottery, the payoff can be big. Fashion designer Kenneth Cole approved a campaign that dealt with Clinton, Paula Jones, independent counsel Ken Starr and Monica Lewinsky. But he feels the nature of his business gives him this freedom.

"Our business is fashion, and it's about timing and in our case, it's about being relevant and there's nothing more relevant than current affairs," said Cole, the president of Kenneth Cole.

An ad for Daffy's Clothing Stores uses similar logic as it offers "free passes to the White House." A dry cleaner, and a detergent company from Israel are also getting on the scandal bandwagon via Lewinsky's now-infamous stained dress.

Ironically, the one ad that got a reaction from the White House was created before the scandal as part of Tommy Hilfiger's Americana theme. The White House asked the company to pull an ad because it featured White House imagery: it featured a young woman modeling a dress as she sat on a desk set with Oval Office props.

(A White House spokesman said it was not the ad's timing that got their attention; rather, they have a long-standing policy that the White House not be used for advertising.)

While there are always risks with any type of campaign, there are also benefits. "Ads create dialogue, they create conversation, they create attention -- that's our objective," says Cole. "That is the message, it's about awareness."

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