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Protests against ads get more results

Christian Dior's overhaul of marketing for 'Addict' indicates a new corporate attitude.

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Sharon Smith just got a lesson she thinks other people need to learn: "You can make a difference."

Last fall, she opened up a bill from a department store and out fell an advertisement for a new perfume called "Addict." It pictured a slender model clothed mostly in beaded sweat with an anxious expression on her face, as if she needed a fix.

Ms. Smith was appalled. Her own daughter had been an addict - a heroin addict. At 18 she died of an overdose.

"The word 'addict' connotes my daughter being violently ill, when she was sitting in corner rocking, seeing her desperately needing another fix," says the Pennsylvania mother.

Smith made her feelings about the ad clear, and a grass-roots campaign ensued. Much to her surprise, and that of advertising experts, perfumemaker Christian Dior took notice and last week pledged to overhaul its advertising campaign.

The process taught Smith something that other grass-roots groups are beginning to catch on to: Advertisers are becoming increasingly sensitive to public opinion. In part, that's due to the fragmenting of the television audience into smaller niche markets, which has made them more sensitive about offending their target audience. But some analysts say it's also a product of the post-9/11 world and fallout from business scandals: The notion of social responsibility is back on the corporate agenda.

And a growing number of advocacy groups that deal with everything from drug addiction to girls' health are taking advantage of that, changing the images we see every day.

"Most people feel powerless in the face of these huge corporations and never write, never protest, and never do anything," says Jean Kilbourne, an advertising and media critic. "In fact, they're quite sensitive to public opinion when they get any response to an ad. They assume a whole lot of other people feel that way as well."

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