Advertisers plan to halt advertising if war breaks out

LONDON - Advertisers are making plans to suspend advertising if, as expected, the US and Britain go to war against Iraq within the next few weeks.

Plans are being drawn up in the US by most major advertisers, including consumer products giant Procter & Gamble, which is laying the groundwork to pull all of its network TV ads for the first 48 hours of a possible war.

More significantly, it says it will not advertise during any war coverage as it seeks to distance its brands from an Iraqi conflict. Simply put, advertisers do not want their products shown alongside the inevitable body bags.

It follows comments made last month by Sir Martin Sorrell that there was a growing trend in the US for advertisers to demand get-out clauses in the event of war with Iraq.

It was previously commonplace for US advertisers to have deferral, but now advertisers are demanding outright cancellation rights.

American Express is one advertiser using the "war clause". Sir Martin said that advertisers were worried about the propriety of advertising during rolling war coverage, but said that he did not think that it would have an impact on advertising revenue unless the war is protracted.

It is seen as unlikely that advertisers in the UK will be demanding war clauses, with the understanding on both sides that sensitive industries, such as airlines, would expect media companies to allow ads to be pulled under certain circumstances whether or not it is written into the contract.

Other advertisers, such as Gucci and Merrill Lynch, have also informed agencies and media companies that ad budgets will be cut or reined in if America goes to war.

Some advertisers though are taking a different approach. Last week, Vodafone launched a marketing blitz centred on Kuwait City International Airport -- just as the international media corps descend there ahead of a possible war with Iraq.

The preparation for an ad freeze comes on the back of the lessons learned after 9/11. Initially, on the news networks there was little space for advertisers as the networks went ad free and later there was still little desire to associate their brands with the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

There is also a question of execution, as HP found when it hastily pulled one of its corporate branding TV ads, which showed images of astronauts, in the wake of the Columbia shuttle disaster.

The spot, designed to show how HP works with NASA, featured an astronaut floating in space with a voiceover saying: "With the help of HP's technology and servers, the world's space agencies can focus on getting their employees home safely".

Analysts in the US have already noticed that certain sectors are showing pre-war caution. The sectors are notable as they include airlines, petrochemical, financial services and travel, which are all likely to be hard hit by any conflict.

Michael Drexler, CEO of Optimedia International, told the New York Times: "Most of our clients are resigned to the prospect of war. They plan to hold off advertising during the initial phase of any attack and see how it plays out."

If the military planners are right and the war is quick with the bulk of Iraq's military surrendering, an advertiser absence will not be a problem, but a prolonged war could hit an already depressed ad industry hard.

It is not just television that will be affected -- the ad freeze will hit magazines, newspapers and radios, which are arguably in a poorer state to meet such revenue shortfalls.

The TV networks will be insulated slightly as they have been the first to feel a resurgence in advertising. The current US upfront season is already looking to be the best for some time, showing increases in excess of 10%.

According to reports, forecasters in the US are predicting an increase in adspend for 2003 of between 3% and 7%, mostly from movies, consumer goods and retail.

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