All-in-the-family drive-time ads take off

By Anne Veigle
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
January 27, 1998

Four-year-old Michael Kaufman broke into the radio-advertising business when he was 3 – the same year his mother gave birth to triplets.

It’s a good bet Washington area commuters know his work – his radio commercials for the family-owned Ameritel Corp.in Rockville are heard on drive-time programs on WTOP, WMZQ, WGMS and WGAY. The ads feature Michael talking about Ameritel’s dedication to selling and servicing Canon copying machines as babies gurgle and giggle in the background. The ads end with the jingle, “Call 301/351-0222. That’s three 2′s, for triplets.”

Distinctive – and perhaps grating if you are stuck in the car for more than an hour. Business has taken off since the ads started nearly two years ago.

“We got an immediate response,” says David Kaufman, president of Ameritel and Michael’s father. “At first, I didn’t want to do it, because with triplets you get so much attention everywhere you go,” he says. “But then I thought we’d give it a try. Bringing the family into the picture made the ads much more effective.”

For Mr. Kaufman, the decision to mix family and business is part of a strategy to publicize the fact that his company is family-owned and family-friendly. He offers flexible work schedules to his employees, allowing some to work part time or at home to juggle family care responsibilities.

“I tell people as long as they are performing their job, I firmly believe they need to spend time with their children,” Mr. Kaufman says. “This has always been a family-oriented type of business. I believe in that.’

Using family members in advertising is not an uncommon tactic, particularly for small companies, ad experts say. Ameritel employs 24 people and prides itself on its personalized service.

“I think the family-owned concept is becoming more and more important because the big corporate name, while it carries clout for consumers, also turns off a lot of consumers, many of whom have been laid off by these corporations,” says Amy Levy, president of a District-based marketing firm.

The Ameritel ads have two points in their favor, she says. They build on a well-known brand name, Canon, and they tell listeners something about the character of the business owner: He is a father of four children.

“Home businesses are sprouting on every corner” in the Washington area, she says, so people are likely to react favorably to such an image portrayed in advertisements. “You win on a lot of differing ends.”

Car dealerships often trade on family relationships in promoting their corporate image to project a more homey relationship with customers. But some advertising experts warn that involving children in advertising can be a risky venture.

“It can be very advantageous but also a double-edged sword,” says Kent Jarrell, senior vice president with Ryan McGinn Strategic Communications in Arlington. “The danger is if you are seen as exploiting a child, that can backfire.”

Such ads also can wear out their welcome in a hurry too, he says. “When you have repetition of an ad, people can change their view over time, and the use of a child can become irritating – so the concept can backfire.”

Mr. Kaufman’s ad agency, Baltimore-based Lincoln Co., created the family-based concept for the Ameritel campaign. A new set of spots is slated to begin in February – with Michael again starring in the narrative.

“It was great fun for me,” says Toni Miner, who runs the Lincoln company with her husband, Paul. The Miners made the recordings for the ads in the Kaufmans’ home, chasing around the triplets and “interviewing” Michael for the ad spots.

“He was bright enough to understand what we wanted him to do, and now he’s in the groove,” Mrs. Miner says.

“But Michael also has learned to make deals,” she says. “I had to promise to make him homemade ravioli.”

Michael loves to hear himself on the radio, Mr. Kaufman says. “He gets a real kick out of it when we are in the car and the ads come on the radio. He says, `Daddy, that’s us!’

Mr. Kaufman says the children’s involvement is a plus for both the family and his company. “We are sharing our children. We are a young business and a young family.”

“Copyright 1998 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of The Washington Times.”

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