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Advertisers Avoid Beach, Tsunami Images

A growing number of marketers are shelving ads with wave, beach or surfer themes to avoid being insensitive in light of the Asian tsunami tragedy.

Pepsi (PEP) and British Airways became the latest to pull the plug on campaigns, and at least three other companies have withdrawn or delayed spots that invoke tsunami-related imagery.

Pepsi has delayed indefinitely an international campaign starring soccer stars David Beckham (search), Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry, among others, playing soccer on a beach in front of a giant wave.

"In light of the recent tragedy in Asia, we at PepsiCo International have taken the decision to put our 2005 surf-themed soccer campaign on hold for the foreseeable future," Pepsi said in a statement.

Also yesterday, British Airways halted a campaign already underway in the U.K. that included beachside images.

Many marketers are quick to scrutinize their ads for inappropriate imagery and tone after major events or disasters. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, in particular, made them more cautious, with some pulling campaigns deemed to humorous or light-hearted.

"9/11 was a dress rehearsal for the tsunami in that advertisers had to answer questions — many for the first time — what do you do about your advertising at a time when sensitivity is the most important thing?" said Mark DiMassimo of New York ad agency DiMassimo Carr Brand Advocates (search).

American Express (AXP) is scrambling to pull a commercial featuring champion surfer Laird Hamilton (search) that began airing last month.

Dell Computers (DELL) is holding a new ad that made direct reference to the tragedy. In an unfortunate coincidence, the spot showed a customer asking the 24-hour support line if he could still get help during various disaster scenarios, including a tsunami.

As DiMassimo said, "Let's not make it worse — that's the Hippocratic oath of advertising."