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Advertisers sail away from Columbus tie-ins

This time, Columbus really seems to have fallen off the edge of the Earth.

There were expectations a year or two ago that hoopla over the 500th anniversary of his arrival in this hemisphere would be so widespread as to be inescapable. Instead, as America heads into this Columbus Day weekend, one must search as assiduously as any explorer to find promotions or advertising with Columbian themes.

"It's become a non-event," said Kerry E. Smith, editor and publisher of Promo, a promotion marketing trade magazine in Wilton, Conn.

All that is welcome news to consumers weary of marketers seizing control of the calendar and turning every holiday or special event into an excuse to buy greeting cards and collect "official" keepsakes.

What little Columbus-related advertising that consumers are seeing is primarily the usual annual campaigns tied to Columbus Day, like sales at department stores.

While there are several reasons for the paucity of quincentennial pitches, maybe the most important is the dispute over Columbus' achievements.

Arguments that it is insensitive to say he "discovered" America, and that his arrival signaled the start of the exploitation of the Indians, have been wracking the realms of academia, the arts and religion.

Another reason cited is that marketers spent a lot of money on other events this year, such as the Olympics and the presidential campaign.

Chris Sutherland, executive director at the Promotion Marketing Association of America in New York, said that marketers interested in the commemoration also "are fighting the public's apathy. People just don't seem to care about it much."