ET Earning Huge
Advertising Profits
By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO (Reuters) - In the sphere of advertising, aliens are making contact at a record pace.
They're dropping new-age Maytag washing machines from UFOs, exploring the creature comforts of General Motors Corp.'s Buick Century, selling high-tech wireless phone service for PrimeCo and even leaving behind secret messages on wrappers of Betty Crocker's Fruit by the Foot.
Given the blockbuster success of Columbia Pictures' ``Men in Black'' last summer and TV hits ``The X-Files'' on Fox and ``3rd Rock from the Sun'' on NBC, the current alien sightings in advertising are hardly paranormal, said Laura Ries, a principal in brand consulting firm Ries & Ries of Atlanta.
``There have been hordes of copies of those shows. It's not surprising that in addition to all of those copycats, advertisers are using the idea as well to sell products,'' she said.
Feature film releases such as Warner Brothers' ``Sphere'' earlier this month with Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone and the upcoming April release of New Line Cinema's ``Lost in Space'' with William Hurt may help keep the trend alive.
If alien ads are on the rise, it's not surprising, given all of the related TV programming, said Johann Wachs, senior strategic planner at Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising in New York. ''You never want your advertising to stick out like a sore thumb,'' he said.
In addition to space-related movies and TV programming, Pathfinder's Mars mission and the 50th anniversary of the supposed alien crash landing near Roswell, N.M., grabbed headlines throughout the summer, bringing the possibility of life beyond Earth to the fore.
For a number of advertisers, aliens have become a metaphor for high technology. Dallas-based PrimeCo Personal Communications is betting an estimated $50 million in brand advertising that a little pink alien who left his phone on Earth will pique consumers' interest in wireless phone technology.
The advertising campaign, which began last July, focuses on an alien named Primetheus.
``We did a takeoff on Greek mythology,'' said Allen Bourne, director of marketing communications for PrimeCo. ``Prometheus brought the gift of fire to Earth. Our hapless alien left his gift of advanced wireless communications.''
So far, the ads seem to be making an impact for Primeco, a joint venture by U.S. West Media, AirTouch Communications Inc. and Bell Atlantic Corp. In its first six months, the effort has boosted PrimeCo's TV awareness by 47 percent.
``That brings us to within 10 to 12 points of competitors who have been out there for years,'' Bourne said.
Maytag Corp. took a slightly more serious approach when it introduced the Neptune front-loading washer, a design common in Europe but unfamiliar to consumers in the United States. TV ads depict the Maytag repairman, played by actor Gordon Jump, in an open field at night. Neptunians drop a high-tech washer from their spaceship, solving his stain problem.
``If anybody was going to bring (this technology) to Earth, who better but Neptunians?'' said Chris Julcher, associate creative director at Leo Burnett USA in Chicago, which created the spot along with Australian special-effects agency Animal Logic of Sydney. ``Alien sightings seem to happen in small, remote locations, which is where the Maytag repairman lives,'' Julcher said.
In the high-tech world of the Internet, aliens are right at home, said Karen Carbonnet, director of online marketing and marketing communications for Infoseek, an Internet search and navigation site. As part of its current multimillion-dollar spot TV campaign, Infoseek proposed aliens as a possible solution to the problem of how Johnny -- a character in its TV ads -- could have gathered certain difficult-to-obtain information.
The campaign, which premiered on ``The X-Files'' Nov. 2 and has been making its debut in waves across the United States ever since, features four commercials with the themes ``aliens,'' ''witchcraft,'' ``psychic powers'' and ``CIA.'' A corresponding online promotion and contest urged consumers to find the most interesting Web sites related to each theme.
``The aliens part of our contest got more entries than all of the other parts combined,'' Carbonnet said.
In a whimsical campaign for General Motors' Buick Century, Martians explore the car's luxury amenities. The commercial is part of a $50 million ad campaign from McCann-Erickson of Troy, Mich., which also uses talking cows, penguins and baby chicks in an effort to appeal to younger consumers.
Although popular with adults, space exploration and alien life are kids' No. 1 most fascinating topic, said Wachs, who tracks kids' interests for Saatchi's Kid Connection advertising unit.
For Fruit by the Foot maker General Mills Inc., secret alien messages have begun appearing on its wrappers as well as in advertising launched earlier this month by Saatchi & Saatchi. ''The space theme is not only infiltrating the advertising, but the product itself,'' said Wachs, who predicts the alien trend is far from over.
``Space is the realm of fantasy. There's always a new frontier,'' he said.

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