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Region-Specific Advertising Grows

February 17, 1998

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ The Burgunder Dodge dealership’s radio commercial is delivered in flawless Pittsburghese:

``I’m lookin’ for a Dodge diller that’s close to my hahs,″ the actor says. ``I mean, I hadda drive through dahntahn!″

Outsiders might not realize that a ``diller″ is a dealer, ``dahntahn″ is downtown and that Pittsburgh’s geography makes driving a nonlinear adventure. The ad is meant to appeal to the insiders and their pride in their unique ``Picksburg″ identity.

Region-tailored ads _ on print, on the air and on the road _ mine affections for landmarks, fashions, sports teams and geographies.

In doing so, the ads say: We understand you.

That message may be more likely than others to get noticed, said Larry Feick, a University of Pittsburgh professor of business administration.

``One of the things you battle in advertising is clutter. When you see some guy from some place you know _ when you see a guy from Punxsutawney _ you pay attention,″ Feick said.

Regionalized ads helped push up Bud Light beer sales in Texas in 1996, said Bob Lachky, vice president of brand management for Anheiser-Busch Cos. in St. Louis.

In a series of TV commercials, the Bud Light guys who dress in drag for Ladies’ Night in nationwide ads did a Texas-specific commercial in which they spoofed the state’s omnipresent beauty pageants by competing to be in a Bud Light calendar. The beer’s Texas sales rose 25 percent that year, Lackey said.

Regionalization also has driven advertising agencies to establish offices across the nation. J. Walter Thompson Co., a New York-based agency, expanded into 23 satellite offices nationwide for that purpose, said Bob McClowry, the agency’s management director in Detroit.

``In order to be successful for our clients, we have to be as local as they are,″ McClowry said. ``We tailor everything to talk to people in their own language.″

Many products may be advertised by tugging at regional ties, but beer and cars are prime for this type of ad because consumers bring more emotion to choosing those products as opposed to, say, detergent.

``Your decision about whether your laundry soap has brightener is the same whether you’re in Hawaii or Miami,″ said Mike Johnson, brand director for Miller Brewing Co. in Milwaukee.

In the name of beer sales, advertising agencies have even enlisted regional hairdos. A TV advertising crew for Bud Light filmed real people in bars in 25 cities, and the Pennsylvania version of the ad showed young women in ``Pittsburgh hair″ _ a voluminous frizz.

Some companies _ fast food restaurants, for example _ adjust the actual products rather than the ads. McDonald’s restaurants in the Pittsburgh area have offered wedding soup, a mixture of chicken broth, meatballs and spinach that is a staple of western Pennsylvania diner menus.

``I knew it would do well. People looked at me like I was a nut case in Chicago,″ said Stephen Wayhart, formerly a regional marketing director for McDonald’s.

When executives decide their advertising needs a pinch of regionalism, they frequently enlist a professional athlete, negotiate an official relationship with a sports team or just mention the team.

In a TV commercial for Stroh’s Old Style beer, for example, a twentysomething bar patron is tricked into giving his beer to a magic goat who promises to lift the curse that keeps the Chicago Cubs out of the World Series.

Regionalizing an ad may require more cultural depth than sports can offer.

W.B. Doner & Co., an advertising firm in Southfield, Mich., had to dig deeper to come up with a campaign for Ford Motor Co. in Michigan, where General Motors cars dominate, said Timothy Blett, director of the firm’s auto division.

Part of the problem was that Michiganders had adopted GM cars and their ``belonger″ mentality kept Ford sales down.

``The car you drive up in needs to be an accepted vehicle,″ Blett said. ``When you pull up in your Ford, you shouldn’t have to explain why you bought it.″

To counteract the mindset, Ford commercials announced, ``The switch is on″ to Ford vehicles.

On the West Coast, the Hispanic market has become huge, and advertising firms realize they must do more than reshoot their commercials in Spanish. The extended family must show.

``When you shoot commercials, it’s not a mother, a father, two kids. It’s grandmother, it’s grandfather, it’s aunt and uncle. ... It’s very important to make it creatively relevant to their lifestyle,″ said Tony Bucci, chief executive officer of Pittsburgh-based Marc Advertising.

Humor always attracts consumer attention, and regional ads often poke fun at nonnatives.

In a Burger King TV commercial in New Orleans, new Saints coach Mike Ditka massacres the word ``beignet,″ a local pastry. A Miller Light TV commercial in Texas portrays a cowboy reciting haiku to bar patrons, who applaud by snapping their fingers like a coffee house full of poetry lovers.

Regionalism also can backfire. Some Pittsburghers have objected to the exaggerated accent in the Burgunder Dodge commercials.

``I’ll get phone calls nearly every week about it. There are people who say, `I hate this,′ and they’re the ones that sound like the commercial,″ said Linda Karsnack, a spokeswoman for Carroll Advertising.

But in Texas, no ad can be too Texan, advertising executives agreed. Its consumers practically demand regionalized ads, and all types of consumer products have mounted advertising wars for years to capture more of those oil and beef dollars.

``If you’re not from Texas you don’t know anything. They believe they’re bigger, better than everywhere else. You can’t be an outsider there,″ Johnson said.

So strong is the Texas mystique that advertising firms make sure to hire Texas natives to render slogans in genuine Texas accents.

As one actor playing a rancher pronounces in a truck commercial aimed at Texans: ``We’re from Texas. What country you from?″

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