Wednesday, February 06, 2002

CAN's slogan urges action

New ad campaign aims to heal wounds from city's racial strife

By John Eckberg and Kevin Aldridge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “Cincinnati CAN. You can, too.”

        That's the slogan and public service campaign Cincinnati Community Action Now (CAN) will unveil today to urge people to work together to heal racial wounds and take individual responsibility for building a stronger city.

        “This is the right message at the right time for the people of Cincinnati,” said CAN co-chairman Ross Love, who worked on the public service campaigns for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. “I view this as a charge for everybody in the community to work to make Cincinnati a better place to live, work and play.”

        The slogan will air this year as public service announcements on television spots, in newspaper advertisements, radio ads and on billboards. The ads will debut before a Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

        Even though the slogan is expected to rely on the generosity of media outlets for placement — rather than on paid positions — CAN members believe it still has the potential to deliver an emotional jolt.

        But some advertising experts warn that catchy slogans and pat phrases can backfire if there is not a clear message of substance behind them.

        The public service ads, developed by the Northlich ad and public relations agency, are the culmination of nearly four months of planning by CAN. The print ads — which will be carried by the Enquirer and the Cincinnati Herald — will begin running almost immediately, said Mark Serrianne, a CAN member and president and CEO of Northlich. Tapes will be delivered to participating radio and television stations today and should receive air play soon after, he said.

        Jerry Malsh, head of local ad agency J. Malsh & Co. and a marketing instructor at the University of Cincinnati, said “PSA (public-service announcement) slogans can have just as much, if not more and longer lasting impact than those for paid media clients.”

        “Nancy Reagan's delivery of "Just Say No!' became as quoted as Nike's "Just Do It!”

        Mr. Malsh said some campaigns run for years and years.

        “"Thanks To You, It's Working' has been so successful for the United Way that it's now being shared with the NFL in a powerful example of co-branding,” he said.

        But advertising expert Robert A. Hansen is not so sure.

        Mr. Hansen, an associate professor at the Curtis L. Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, suggested that for slogans to work, they cannot exist in a vacuum.

        “Public-sector people like slogans,” he said. “I wouldn't say that slogans flat out don't work, but they are much more likely to work if the campaign has substance that gets at the root causes of a behavior.”

        And if the ads are based on what must be accomplished.

        The word “slogan” is a misnomer, said David S. Bukvic, president and chief executive of Mann Bukvic Gatch Partners, a downtown advertising agency.

        In recent years, the advertising community has rejected the notion of slogans. Instead, a slogan is known as a “core theme.”

        Usually, core themes fall into one of two camps: it boasts or it urges action, Mr. Bukvic said. In other words, it tells what the agency or advertiser does or it suggests what people should do.

        “It has to be clear, and this one sounds fairly clear, but you don't want to judge core themes until you see the execution,” he said.

        Mike Maul, president of Wordsworth Communications, a public relations consulting firm based in Fairfax, held off on grading this core theme but said a good one can have great impact.

        One challenge for Cincinnati CAN is that citizens have become skeptical of pat phrases.

        “There must be believability and substance,” Mr. Maul said. “If you choose one that isn't grounded in some way with bedrock of what you're doing, it becomes an ad slogan and people are jaundiced about ad slogans.”

        CAN leaders believe that Cincinnatians will be engaged and respond to their message.

        “We have a community that looks at people as "us' or "them,'” Mr. Love said. “What Northlich has done is gotten us to look at people as people rather than a group of "thems.'”


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