Markets, ads sputter on war fears oil soars Retailers cut back costly promotions

January 15, 1991|By Cindy Harper-Evans

Today, the newspaper may seem a bit thinner and paid television and radio spots a bit fewer and far between.

Retailers have become progressively more stingy with their advertising dollars since the holidays, and today's countdown to war in the Middle East is making some businesses even more hesitant about costly promotions.

Part of the rationale is that consumers are going to be too preoccupied about the threat of war in the next few days to spend money. Another reason is that the target market of many retailers is the 18- to 34-year-olds -- the same group that makes up the great majority of the U.S. military force in Operation Desert Shield.

Skip Briggs, president of Annapolis-based g. Briggs, said he decided last week that the clothing chain would not continue its usual advertising spots this week on radio. The store was going to announce a sale on men's suits for $149.

"I think the consumer's attention is going to be on anything but advertising," Mr. Briggs said. "War is just foremost on everyone's mind."

Despite the tendency for retailers to want to cut back, several local ad executives said now is actually to time to advertise more than ever.

"Viewership and readership is going to be higher now than at any other time in 1991," because people want to keep on top of events in the Middle East, said Roger Gray, chief executive of Baltimore-based Gray Kirk & Evans. "If you can gain market share now, you can keep it."

Hecht's, Joppa-based Merry-Go-Round Enterprises Inc. and other big local advertisers, which often decide on promotions months in advance, said they are not planning to change their schedules.

Merry-Go-Round, however, said that if the clothing retailer did book ads on a week-to-week basis, it probably would have cut back this week.

"Nationally, a lot of advertisers are saying that if there is a war, they want to put all their advertising on hold indefinitely," said Dana Fitzgerald, general sales manager at WJZ-TV (Channel 13). "There is a concern about commercials running in conjunction with war-related materials."

WMAR-TV (Channel 2), WBAL-TV (Channel 11) and WJZ said that if war breaks out in the Middle East, they probably will carry "wall-to-wall" coverage of events for at least a few days, which would cut the available advertising time.

However, if advertising stays down, consumers will see more public-service announcements and promotional spots for the stations' own programming, they said.

Local newspapers, including The Sun, said they have noticed a cutback in ads and ad dollars as today's midnight deadline nears.

Ad agencies predict that if war breaks out and the United States wins in a matter of days, retailers' hesitancies about advertising will diminish.

"If victory appears to be imminent in a few days or weeks, the country would feel euphoric. A pullout in the 11th hour [by Iraq] would also make the country feel good. That is a good time to promote your goods and services," said George D. Edwards II, chief executive of Baltimore-based Hottman Edwards Advertising Inc.

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