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Caveats From Some Potential Emptors

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They saw, they wrote--but they're not sure they conquered.

Latin students and teachers at two Virginia high schools are uncertain what the effect was of letters they sent to the Oldsmobile division of General Motors complaining about a Cutlass Ciera television commercial that they said took a cheap shot at the study of Latin.

In the ad, a boy riding with his father in a Cutlass Ciera asks why he has to study algebra. The father says algebra can be used to design a car like the Ciera. When the son asks his father why he should study Latin, the father shrugs.

The company said the spot, last aired nationwide May 15, will not be run again. But some of those who complained suspect that their protests had no effect on gm's original Cutlass Ciera advertising schedule.

"I'm sure this was when the contract was up," said Polly McFarlane, a Latin teacher at Cave Spring High School in Roanoke, Va., whose 40 Latin students fired off letters to gm last fall. "I really don't think they changed any policy."

"My feeling was that they had intended to pull it anyway, because they can't use the same ad after the model year ends," said Peggy Gardi-ner, a Latin teacher in Blacksburg, Va., who had her 130 Blacksburg High School Latin students write the company in February. Neither teacher originally knew of the other's letter-writing campaign.

In writing to the auto maker, Ms. Gardiner said, some students "tried to pick out all the words used by either advertising agencies or auto manufacturers" that are derived from Latin. Ms. McFarlane reminded the auto company of the Roman orator Cicero's admonishment that "not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child."

Philip Workman, public-relations director for gm's Oldsmobile division, confirmed that the commercial had originally been scheduled to run only to May 15. But he said that "we could have changed that, and run it until July."

The mail from the Virginia schools, as well as about "a dozen" other letters, convinced gm to stick to its original advertising plan, he said. "Our intention certainly was not to demean the study of Latin" or to upset young Latin scholars, but rather to show that the Ciera is a "high-tech" automobile, Mr. Workman added.

"These young people in the schools down there--we hope sometime fairly soon they will be purchasers of passenger cars, and will consider Oldsmobiles," he said.

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