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Truth in Advertising
By Dave Kiffer

November 05, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - There was an old magazine advertisement for sale on EBAY this week (told you they sold just about anything!).

The 1969 magazine ad was for Xerox and was what we used to call in the publishing biz a "two page spread." One page was the copy "We service downtown locations: Downtown Thief River Falls, Downtown Spearfish, Downtown Kodiak." The ad went on to trumpet the fact that Xerox (The Copier People!) were just about everywhere that you needed them to be. No matter how "out of the way" the location.

Fine. Good job. Way to make your point and sell your product.

gif e-by grilled cheese sandwich
E-Bay Grilled Cheese Sandwich
By Larry Wright, The Detroit News
Distributed by Cagle Cartoons, Inc.

But it was the second page caught my attention. It was a line drawing of someone wearing a parka and snow shoes and carrying a briefcase marked "Xerox." The tagline under the picture read "Our Man in Ketchikan."

Well, isn't that special? Sure, I know you're thinking that it's not fair to make fun of old advertisements (anyone remember the old Marlboro ads for clove scented cigarettes that were reputed to "help" asthma sufferers?). But the Eskimo-clothed copier repairman is just too hard to pass up.

This - of course - falls into the "geographically challenged" category that I wrote about in a column here just about a year ago. That column focused on the lack of individual awareness of the reality of Alaska. Since corporations are made up of individuals, it's inevitable that they would suffer from acquired intelligence deficiency syndrome - a group is no smarter than its stupidest member.

That's what leads a big company like Xerox (or at least it was a big company in 1969) to assume that Ketchikan is like the rest of Alaska - all snow, ice and dog sleds.

I remember the big "hoo-haw" that occurred in the early 1970s, when the giant corporation AT&T ran a national ad campaign that featured an ad reading "If you are billed for a call to Ketchikan, Alaska and you don't even know where Ketchikan is."

The idea was that it was easier to clear up billing mistakes with the company's new high powered computer and improved customer service system.

Well, naturally, Ma Bell was a little unclear about where Ketchikan was. The ad showed a picture of a telephone pole standing in a barren, frozen, clearly high arctic wasteland. In response, I remember the Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce taking out an ad in several national magazines proclaiming "We know where Ketchikan is, but where's Ma Bell?"

Interestingly enough, Ma Bell had used Ketchikan in a national ad campaign 15 years previously (to tout new undersea telephone cables to Alaska) and had shown the Welcome Arch and the St. Francis Hotel so at one point it once knew where Ketchikan was, but apparently had misplaced it by 1970 or so.

Television ads are also occasionally less than accurate about our fair Salmon City.

I remember watching an ad for Holland America cruise line on Boston television in the mid 1980s that talked about the culture of Alaska. While the narrator droned on about the splendors of Ketchikan, the picture on the screen was of an Eskimo blanket toss in Barrow. Close, but no sigarliarlak!

Even closer to home were recent television ads for Best Western Hotels in which they talked about their Alaska locations and then showed something related to each location (Fairbanks - Mt. McKinley, Homer - the Spit, Valdez - the pipeline etc etc).

For Ketchikan, they showed the Alaska Railroad. Obviously, I missed the construction of that little trunk line.

Some of this is just being sloppy. As a longtime journalist, I understand and embrace the concept of "quick and dirty" sloppiness. Frankly, I wallow in it.

For example, I really wallowed in it several years ago when the statewide tourism promotion group bought a series of ads in national newspapers across the country extolling the virtues of Alaska.

One was a big beautiful four color ad that showed the colors of Creek Street on a lovely summer day. The ad was produced entirely by the tourism group and was "camera ready" something that publishers like because they just slap in the magazine or newspaper without any changes. And they did.

After all, they couldn't be expected to realize that the Alaska group had spelled the name of "Alaska's First City" as "Ketchican."

It was up to our own brethren in Anchorage to be so "challenged."



Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Dave at

Dave Kiffer ©2005

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