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Editorial coverage can be a powerful commercial edge

There are very few remarkable things about the Motor Show ad. The fact that its central image is that shrivelled hag of a cliche, a woman in a bra (copy: 'The other way to your man's heart is down the M6'), is probably the least remarkable of them all, writes Claire Beale.

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This sort of image is so familiar that its stand-out value is minimal. It says nothing about the content of this year's event. It implies that the whole shebang is only for the 50% of the population that wears underpants. It's not even titillating enough to really get all those underpants interested. If it's meant to be ironic, it's not ironic enough. But in blunt terms of doing its job -- telling the world the Motor Show is on, and where -- it is almost certainly one of the most effective ads of the year.

Its effectiveness lies in its media coverage, smothering the TV and newspapers over the past few days. Only a handful of UK advertisers could have afforded this sort of media schedule (and the Motor Show certainly isn't one of them). But none of them could have bought it. Even in the current climate, the top quarter of The Telegraph's front page is not for sale. And the Motor Show positively rampaged across BBC news.

It's not as though the ad itself was noticeable or offensive enough to have caused widespread revolt without the intervention of the trade and industry secretary, Patricia Hewitt, who has labelled it sexist. But by design or good fortune, this particular example of the genre has stuck in the maw, and enjoyed invaluable exposure as a result. Is the agency responsible for the ad, the Marketing Store, smart enough to have conceived the ad more for its editorial appeal than its creative credentials?

Certainly there are commercial lessons to be learned from the Motor Show. "Integration" is a communications buzzword but still very few campaigns are conceived with a view to the editorial endorsement (or in this case, debate) they can generate. And few media schedules would attempt to embrace editorial space as well as the bits in between, let alone try to measure the benefits for an advertiser of this "free" coverage.

But, let's face it, not all publicity is good publicity. The Motor Show ad may have raised the profile of the event, but at the expense of alienating all those women working in the motor industry and compromising the image of the UK business on the international stage. But it does illustrate the power of editorial coverage that is waiting to be harnessed. The challenge is to conceive talked-about creative work, such as John Smith's "'Ave it" or Budweiser's "Whassup?", that has a life beyond the ad, and thrives in the realm of editorial endorsement and beyond. That's integration, but how many agencies are planning for this, let alone able to produce accountable editorial extensions to media schedules?

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