PR: ADS THAT MAKE THE NEWS - Nudity, celebrity or shock can all get an ad into the news, but what should never be ignored is context

Put a naked woman on a poster or in a television commercial and it will start people talking and journalists scribbling. Make that a woman larger than a size ten and you have probably guaranteed column inches from both sexes.

Put a naked woman on a poster or in a television commercial and it will start people talking and journalists scribbling. Make that a woman larger than a size ten and you have probably guaranteed column inches from both sexes.

This goes some way to explaining why Marks & Spencer's 'exclusively for everyone,' in which a size-16 model sheds her clothes and inhibitions on a hillside, came top in the annual Ads That Make The News survey. The research, by Propeller Marketing Communications was based on the number of stories in national newspapers and found it was the most written about advertising campaign of 2000.

Perhaps surprisingly, Sophie Dahl's naked poster and press ads for the Yves Saint Laurent perfume Opium came fifth, equal with Robbie Williams' Pepsi campaign, despite being the most complained about advertisement ever.

One of the best examples of using an ad purely to make the news was the Commission For Racial Equality's campaign. This used computer imagery to change the skin colour of celebrities such as Mel B and Chris Evans.

It was backed by a carefully planned media relations programme and came equal tenth in the survey.

Although use of nudity, shock tactics and celebrities are an easy way to guarantee publicity, the phrase 'there's no such thing as bad publicity' does not always turn out to be true. Positive press can turn negative overnight, and there is nothing an agency can do about it. A good PR department or agency should be able to spot any potential PR blunders that might be sparked by the content or timing of a campaign - and some recent examples, such as M&S and Barclays, show that a client should always listen to PR counsel.

Public perception of a company and the appropriateness of the campaign from the time it runs can have an enormous impact on the type of coverage.

Of the 12 campaigns which featured in the Ads That Make The News survey, the coverage for two - M&S's 'I'm normal' and Barclays' 'Big world', which came first and second respectively - stand out as being directly linked to the state of the advertiser's core business.

M&S's first sustained TV advertising campaign in the company's history was bound to spark some press interest, especially when it featured a naked woman.

But, as MT Rainey, joint chief executive officer of M&S's advertising agency, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, points out, there were four other ads for the campaign which received virtually no coverage.

While she admits that the agency knew that the 'I'm normal' ad would be written about, they were unprepared for the sheer volume of press interest and the fact that a shot of the ad was being used to illustrate stories about M&S's financial situation.

'The original press comment was actually very favourable towards the ad as it was a very PC thing to do, celebrating women whatever size they were. The ad itself generated a lot of store traffic. It worked in all of the ways we wanted,' she says. 'But it was the financial press that used it as a cipher for M&S's financial problems, and it became a symbol attached to negative news.'

'It is very difficult - if not impossible - to control. The more high profile the ad, the more interest there will be. The fact that there is a climate of overwhelming press coverage of M&S is something that we must be aware of. We can't let it be a driving force, but we have to recognise it as a context,' Rainey adds.

The issue of context appeared to completely pass Barclays Bank by when it launched its 'Big world' television advertising campaign to raise brand awareness. The three ads, by Leagas Delaney and directed by Tony Scott, featured the British actors Sir Anthony Hopkins, Nick Moran and Timothy Spall, each talking about the different connotations of being 'big'.

Unfortunately, someone should have warned Barclays that for 'big', customers would read 'uncaring', as the campaign coincided with Barclays' plans to close 171 local branches and the revelation that its chairman Sir Peter Middleton's salary had quadrupled to pounds 1.76 million during 1999. Brand tracking during the times the ads were running showed that the public perceived Barclays to be 'a poor quality brand', and, what's more, viewers were reading into the ads what they were reading in the press - that Barclays was a big bank that didn't care about the 'little' people.

Fortunately, there are ads that attract the right sort of coverage for the brand and the agency. Third place in the survey came Guinness's 'surfer' ad made by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. Costing more than pounds 1 million to make, and taking more than a year to develop, the ad employed the sort of special effects so beloved of journalists and much of the coverage focused on telling readers how the ad was made.

According to Propeller's survey, more than 400 ads got a mention over the last year. For some, without the budgets of Guinness, extra coverage makes all the difference. But for the odd one it can mean very bad news indeed.

Ads that make the news: the top ten in 2000

Rank/client name       Campaign

1   Marks & Spencer    ''Exclusively for everyone'', the ads in which an

                       ''average'' sized model celebrates ''averageness''

                       naked on a hilltop

2   Barclays           ''Big bank'', featuring Anthony Hopkins

3   Guinness           ''Boys on black stuff'', the much acclaimed surfers

4   Benetton           ''Death row'', the final ads in the shock tactics


5=  Pepsi              Robbie Williams takes up the baton for the

                       brand''s celebrity-based advertising

5=  Opium              Sophie Dahl''s naked poster and press ads

7   Banardo''s          Charity ad that featured a baby apparently

                       injecting heroin

8=  Calvin Klein       Fashion and fragrance campaigns

8=  Persil             Naomi Campbell asks: ''What does it take to

                       get me into rubber?''

10= CRE                Computer imagery sees celebrities including Ken

                       Livingstone and Andy Cole change skin colour

10= Estee Lauder       ''Face of'', Liz Hurley defies actors'' strike

10= French Connection  Controversial use of company''s fcuk initials

Source: Propeller Marketing Communications