Air Force could announce refueling tanker contract today

A U.S. Air Force tanker

TEXT OF STORY

STEVE CHIOTAKIS: We could get word as soon as today from the Air Force on who gets the all-important $35 billion contract to build new refueling planes. Boeing and Europe's EADS have been battling over this prize for a decade. Their dogfight's spilled over onto the airwaves of Washington.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall-Genzer explains.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: So, I'm brushing my teeth the other night. I flip on the radio for the latest headlines. And hear this:

Ad from EADS: The Pentagon is deciding who will build the next generation of military aerial refueling tankers. And EADS North America has the only modern tanker.

Why do I have to listen to this? I have no say on who gets the contract. But, a few nights later, toothbrush poised, I hear this improbable ad from Boeing. Guys gathered around the water cooler, discussing, not football, but aerial refueling tankers.

Ad from Boeing: That's the Boeing KC-X NewGen tanker. It's the tanker with the jobs, not the joke.

Make it stop! Not a chance.

Guy Hicks: Washington is the epicenter for us to tell our story.

Guy Hicks is an EADS spokesman. He's been lobbing tanker ads for more than six years, and isn't about to hold his fire. Neither is Boeing's PR guy, William Barksdale.

William Barksdale: We're trying to communicate to a lot of audiences why we have the right airplane.

It's a blanket approach. The two defense giants are spending millions on print, online and radio ads. Ads are plastered in Washington Metro stations, too. Ad experts say Boeing and EADS are aiming their messages at just a handful of Pentagon types.

Adam Hanft is a marketing consultant in New York.

Adam Hanft: If you get the right people, they are so important that you're willing to overspend in order to get them.

Hanft says all kinds of businesses use this strategy: Targeting specific markets. In L.A., movie studios pray that judges for the Academy Awards might be stuck in traffic, and hear their ads.

Adam Hanft: These supposedly objective neutral judges are being hit by a barrage of advertising from the studios, pushing their particular films.

But the Academy Award ads end after the winners are announced. We're not so lucky in D.C. Whoever loses the tanker competition is expected to appeal -- and rachet up the ad war. Bad news for those of us who just want to brush in peace, and go to bed.

In Washington, I'm Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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