For the week of January 13, 1999   thru January 19, 1999  

La Niña has blessed Sun Valley

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

Eyebrows at Sun Valley Company headquarters must’ve flicked up in surprise when marketing director Jack Sibbach suggested the unthinkable:

Exploit the misfortunes of snow-starved ski resorts with ads in Rocky Mountain newspapers boasting that Sun Valley has the mother of all snow.

But the obvious downside: what if fickle Mother Nature dumped record snows on the Rockies next year, but left. Bald Mountain bald? Then Sun Valley would have to eat crow and suffer withering derision, maybe revenge, from the resort fraternity.

That boomerang effect is why airlines never advertise safety records: as sure as a boast is made about accident-free operations, an accident occurs.

Sun Valley Company did the right thing, however, by executing Sibbach’s idea. The plodding old company even showed a flash of daring in what many around here consider the Scrooge-ish marketing budgets of Sun Valley tycoon Earl Holding.

In the aftermath of Holding’s decision dumping gold medallist Picabo Street as Sun Valley’s poster girl, the feisty ads might’ve salvaged some goodwill for the company.

Devastating in simplicity, the ads in Rocky Mountain newspapers were built around the photo of a skier blasting through new powder and catchy copy:

"Attention Skiers: La Niña the snow goddess has blessed Sun Valley."

Heaven knows, marketing genius is separated from the ho-hum by quick thinking that seizes on unexpected good fortune with provocative advertising themes that capture attention.

Another example is on TV now – Florida Keys businesses leaped into action with spots showing the sunny grandeur of the island chain, with the simple message that hurricanes have passed, damage is repaired and the Keys are back in business.

While summer interning as a teen gopher for a New York ad agency’s Florida office, handling now-defunct National Airlines, I learned some simple truths about advertising.

Create fear and envy to reach consumers.

For example, fear of not having a sexy enough smile and fragrant breath unless one uses such-and-such toothpaste.

And envy, for example, for leading the life others are enjoying, as seen in photos.

In the late 1940s, National Airlines used the motto "Airline of the Stars" – and built a campaign around Hollywood stars using National.

That was the slick tactic of Sun Valley publicist Steve Hannagan in the ‘30s and ‘40s: he lured celebrities to the new resort and posed them in photos sent worldwide, creating envy among common folks skiers who wanted a taste of life with the glamorous.

Hence, Sibbach’s skier blasting through new powder created envy among forlorn downhillers who were miserable with unfavorable conditions at Rocky Mountain resorts.

The ads weren’t nasty: they didn’t mention or denigrate resorts, thus observing a principle convention of advertising – don’t take a competitor apart in print by name, only by inference.

Some professional group probably will honor these ads for originality and timeliness.

If Sibbach’s bosses would loosen the purse strings, and let creativity run amok, Sun Valley might become a premiere conversation topic as much for its ads as its skiing.

Which would mean more business.


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