RESTON, Va. -- Much of the best supermarket advertising and merchandising is showing signs of a split personality.
On one hand, the industry is showing its charitable side in campaigns that show compassion for -- and produce sizable cash contributions toward -- the hungry and those with disabilities.
On the other hand, interesting merchandising campaigns featuring record-breaking displays of produce or signage portraying the immortal King of Rock 'n' Roll, Elvis himself, are producing amused customers and fuller shopping carts.
On the good-deeds side, for example, Spartan Stores, Grand Rapids, Mich., received an advertising award for the best public-service campaign for its ads in support of the Michigan Special Olympics Summer Games.
In an effort with considerably less social significance, Fresh Encounter, Findlay, Ohio, captured the best fresh-foods merchandising award for creating a campaign around what the company said was Ohio's largest Chiquita banana display.
Spartan Foods has been the sole sponsor of the Michigan Special Olympics Summer Games since 1985, according to Jann McKellar, Spartan advertising manager.
The special feature of this year's campaign was a portrait of a participant in the Special Olympics on the box of a store-brand cereal, with a percentage of the cereal's sales donated to the event.
"This promotion had the highest sales ever generated by a Special Olympics promotion," said McKellar.
The company said it contributed $390,000 to the event as a result of the campaign; it has contributed a total of $4.6 million to the Michigan Special Olympics since it became sole sponsor.
Along with cash, Spartan encourages its employees along with the employees of the retail companies Spartan supplies as a wholesaler and employees of Spartan's suppliers to volunteer during the summer games. Last summer, this effort produced 600 people who helped out during the event.
McKellar said she did not know if Spartan would use the cereal-box promotion again this year, but she was certain the company would continue its support of the Special Olympics.
"Most assuredly, we have no intention of changing or reducing our level of support," she said. "The people at the Michigan Special Olympics make it very rewarding for us to work with them. It's the rewarding satisfaction of doing the right thing."
Fresh Encounter, in contrast, readily admits its effort to create Ohio's largest ever display of Chiquita bananas did little to further the cause of humanity.
"Sometimes it's fun just to do something for the sake of fun," said Jason Bock, Fresh Encounter advertising director. "We thought we'd sell some bananas and make a splash."
Bock said the promotion led to an increase in produce sales over the next four weeks, but he wasn't sure if there would be a sequel.
"We thought about creating Ohio's largest display of potatoes," he said. "But a stack of potatoes doesn't look as pretty as a stack of bananas."
Advertising and merchandising campaigns running the gamut from good deeds to good fun were recognized by this year's Creative Choice Awards, hosted jointly by the National Grocery Association here and Food Distributors International, Falls Church, Va.
The panel of judges included staff from the NGA and FDI as well as faculty from St. Joseph's University, Philadelphia, and other industry experts.
The advertising contest was sponsored by Georgia-Pacific Corp., Atlanta, and the merchandising contest by Unilever Home & Personal Care USA, Chicago.
Other winners also represented the serious/fun split. Copps Corp., Stevens Point, Wis., received an award for its "Sack Hunger" advertising campaign, which encouraged customers to donate food to local food banks.
The program raised the equivalent of $165,000 for local food banks, with Copps, after factoring in the costs of ordering and warehousing the items and paying for labor and advertising, essentially breaking even on the project, according to the company.
On a lighter note, Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., received a merchandising award for its "King Can Sale." In the past, the promotion had parodied King Kong, showing the giant gorilla climbing a stack of cans. This year, the campaign used in-store signage and displays along with television and radio advertising featuring a different King, Elvis.
The company said sales for the event were over budget by 4%, and cases shipped exceeded projections by 12%. Also, the company said the campaign was so popular people were calling stores to ask when commercials were airing, and store employees asked to take home the signage after the campaign ended.