Seen the Monica and Bill show? Now buy the T-shirt

Advertisers, publishers and street traders are in a frenzy to cash in on 'Zippergate'.
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The Independent Online
A VOLUPTUOUS young woman with cascading hair, pouting mouth and black leather trousers curls on top of the US President's desk, an American flag draped behind her. In another scene, she sits barefoot on a rug in the Oval Office of the White House, her knees over the presidential seal.

This is not a trailer for a low-budget TV movie on the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, but shots from the new advertising campaign for the Tommy Hilfiger clothing company. The ads which appear in the current American issues of GQ, Vogue and Vanity Fair, provoked the White House to make a formal complaint last week. Hilfiger has been forced to make changes to the ads, which are due to be published again in November and December.

From Madison Avenue advertising executives to publishers hawking presidential biographies, everyone is rushing to profit from the political crisis. US companies are certainly not above promoting their products with a titillating blend of sex and superpower, and have gone to considerable lengths to capture an authentic look. The Hilfiger ads were shot on White House sets from recent fictional Hollywood movies about the presidency, such as Dave and The American President. Following protests from the Clinton administration, however, Hilfiger has promised to remove "obvious White House imagery" from the ad campaign in the future. A company spokeswoman said: "There is no federal law against using these images, but the company decided to comply."

Others are less restrained. A Los Angeles computer retailer recently ran a newspaper ad boasting that its prices were "dropping faster than the President's pants". The White House is also reported to have complained to Excite, an Internet search-engine company, about its ad suggesting that Mr Clinton wanted to "buy lingerie for that special someone".

"It is increasingly difficult for advertisers to attract attention, so everything becomes fair game," said Nick Shore, partner at the New York consulting firm, Nick and Paul The Brand Agency. "Advertisers can't resist the temptation to touch the heat of the scandal and get some reflected notoriety because of it." In New York, the gourmet food store, Dean & Deluca, won publicity with its range of iced cookies decorated with the faces of the President, the First Lady and Monica Lewinsky. First Couple cookies sell for $10 (pounds 6), while Monica's retails at $20.

Scandal fever has spread overseas, most memorably in Israel, where a soap powder company is using the furore over the alleged DNA matter at the centre of the Lewinsky story to sell stain-removing detergent. A television ad for Biomat detergent shows mock FBI agents entering the home of "Monica Lavinsky" to remove, wash and return a dress.

The impact on the media, however, has been greatest in the US. Broadcast and cable TV networks have gained high ratings and revenues through their blanket coverage, described as "All Monica All the Time". One in four Americans (67.6 million people) watched the President's admission of an "inappropriate" relationship, ratings surpassed only by the finales of the hit shows M*A*S*H and Seinfeld.

"For cable operations, the Clinton affair has been very significant. CNN's ratings went up over 100 per cent," said Professor Marvin Kalb, director of the Shorenstein Centre on Press and Public Policy at Harvard University. "It gives these channels an opportunity to win over an audience." He found it predictable that advertisers were cashing in on the scandal, saying: "I am rarely surprised by the tastelessness of Madison Avenue when it comes to making money."

Time and Newsweek magazines have also found that cover stories on the affair are profitable. "The first issue we had when the scandal broke sold exceptionally well, over double the average sales," said Debra Richman of Newsweek. As for Time, the first time it put the scandal on the cover, it sold an extra 100,000 copies.

In the wake of the news magazines, publishers are racing to bring out new books about the President. A New York psychotherapist, Jerome Levin, has just published The Clinton Syndrome: the President and the Self-Destructive Nature of Sexual Addiction. Paul Fick, a psychologist, will include several chapters on Mr Clinton in a book he is writing about sexual compulsion. The Lewinsky affair has also provided a fresh marketing hook for his previous volume, The Dysfunctional President (1995) and for Wesley Hagood's Presidential Sex: from the Founding Fathers to Bill Clinton. The former Arkansas state trooper, LD Brown, who claims to have solicited over 100 women for Mr Clinton when he was governor of the state, is actively looking for a publishing deal.

And down on the street, traders are flogging mugs and T-shirts of "That Intern Girl". Monica fans can buy glamorous shots or baby pictures of the "cultural goddess" over the Internet. For $3, one can order a bumper sticker with a zip superimposed on the presidential seal. The possibilities are endless. After the jeans, the books and the cookies, how long can it be before we have the mini-series and a new line in cocktail dresses?