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International: ACE ads blur journalism-commerce line

07-September-2002
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International: ACE ads blur journalism-commerce line

In the latest example of a marketer blurring the line between advertising and programming, Ace Hardware will roll out two spots designed to lead viewers to think they are watching Monday Night Football play-by-play banter from John Madden when he's actually delivering a pitch for the hardware chain.

The two spots will run exclusively on ABC's broadcast of Monday Night Football beginning Sept. 9. The effort is the first work from new agency Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, which won the anticipated $30 million account earlier this year.

The spots, to run amid a commercial pod for other products, begin by showing the camera in a broadcast trailer similar to those seen on the sidelines of Monday Night Football. An actor playing an executive producer counts down "Three, two, one" and the camera pans to Mr. Madden, who spouts football patter about penetrating the defense, the key to the last play, or a description of the offensive line. But during the chatter, he takes out a noisy cordless drill, leaf blower and other tools.

In a second spot, it appears Mr. Madden is using his marker to explain a play on the field to fans, but he spells out the word "ACE" instead. In each spot, the men in the broadcast booth shout about Mr. Madden's shameless endorsement antics, cutting him off as he gives the final Ace pitch line. The spot ends with the color bar viewers would see when a program is having technical troubles.

"Madden shamelessly pushes Ace" in the spots, said David Gray, group account director at Goodby Silverstein and lead creative on the effort. He said executives at ABC expressed some initial concern about too closely mixing commercial messages with the broadcast. As a result, Mr. Madden is seen wearing a shirt but not his familiar Monday Night Football blazer. No Monday Night Football logos appear.

At least one watchdog group is concerned. Gary Ruskin, executive director for Commercial Alert, called Ace's tactic "the newest trick in the book." Sports coverage, he said, "is a form of news, a live reportage of a factual event," and he was surprised the network would allow a blurring of the line.

He questioned whether the network would allow Peter Jennings to participate in a similar spot. "What kinds of advertising incursions don't you allow? Where do you draw the line?" he said.

Ironically, Goodby Silverstein won the pitch for Ace with a presentation that suggested dropping Mr. Madden, who had been the hardware chain's longtime spokesman. In the interim, however, Mr. Madden moved from Fox to host the prestigious ABC's Monday Night Football job, leading the agency to change its mind.

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