Net offers nothing

PaxNet's blurbs boast new kind of free TV

First we get ABC’s “TV Is Good” campaign, so it’s only Newtonian that someone should react with the advertising proposition that “TV Is Bad.”

That someone is apparently PaxNet, the future family network that hasn’t yet launched, but has already precipitated an ad controversy with its print reference to “alternative lifestyle.”

PaxNet quickly withdrew and apologized for the reference, which in full context read: “Some so-called creative people seem to be using what was once the family viewing hour to peddle every kind of alternative language and lifestyle to our kids.”

But it remains unbowed — or so forthcoming TV executions of the same campaign indicate.

One such spot features a close-up of a girl who, from the sound of it, appears to be watching a tiny-screen love scene. Another shows a baby taking in some TV violence while being fed on a high chair.

There’s no denying the effectiveness of such images, backed by a $25 million in launch money, as they play into PaxNet’s counter-positioning premise: “Introducing a new kind of free TV. Free of explicit sex. Free of senseless violence. Free of foul language.”

As with all such campaigns, however, there’s inordinate risk in building up a single brand by dragging down an entire industry.

“This sort of short-term, opportunistic tact gets tried in every category,” says ad veteran John Bergin, creator of both the “Pepsi Generation” and “Coke Is It!” campaigns. “But it’s usually done by a brand made desperate by diminishing share.”

One needn’t look beyond Bergin’s own area of expertise to exhume a campaign that sounds a lot like PaxNet’s “new kind of free.”

“Never had it. Never will,” the campaign, which 7Up unleashed on a health-sensitive public in the early ’80s, also made what the product didn’t have — namely, caffeine, sodium and, in sugar-free versions, calories — its selling proposition.

Competitors scorned it as the old maid campaign (“She never had it, and never will either,” they explained), but their derision belied real fears: What if the campaign was really successful? What if it convinced consumers not to consume soft drinks at all?

The campaign wound up going away before the competition did, of course, and the UnCola has never recovered — another point, perhaps, for PaxNet to reconsider.

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