HANSON'S new TV advertising campaign could be the prelude to a mega-bid, the artillery barrage before the assault. According to Christopher Collins, a Hanson director, the new campaign is designed "to increase awareness within Hanson's constituenc y - shareholders actual and potential, bankers, opinion formers".
But the company also admits that the failure to continue the long-running series of advertisements in the run-up to the abortive bid for ICI was a mistake. "If they'd advertised, the bid would have been better understood," says Steve Cooper, the account
director at Lowe Howard Spink, which has produced Hanson's commercials for nine years. "After ICI, Hanson became aware that you have to carry the public with you all the time."
There are hints that the campaign could be designed to soften up an American audience in particular: it is running on selected US channels, including CNN. The theme of the ad, a graduation party at which the successful student is bombarded with advice over his future career path, is a particularly American phenomenon. It echoes a famous scene in the 1968 movie, The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman, which Mr Cooper says "has a legendary status amongst '60s kids - Bill Clinton's generation". In
the commercial, as in the film, an older man advises the graduate to get into plastics.
But the campaigns have always been aimed beyond the narrow professional audience, "all of whom read the FT anyway", according to Mr Cooper. The potential audience includes Hanson's employees. As one media consultant puts it: "It's not good for employees to think that they're working for a shark."
It is also aimed at the employees of potential target companies, to reassure them that there is life after Hanson.
The idea of a regular campaign goes back to 1986, when Sir Tim Bell, then working with Frank Lowe, suggested the idea to Lord Hanson. The aim was two-fold: to "position Hanson as a company of which Britain and the Brits could be proud at a time when anyone who could take on the Americans was a source of great pride", as Cooper puts it; and to blunt the accusation that Hanson was merely an asset-stripper.