Advertising Week 2007

No More Hyperbole-Filled Panels: How to Fix Ad Week

Ito's Melancon: Please Make Me Hopeful Again

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As another Advertising Week winds down, I'm left with the feeling that while advertising may be dying the slow, painful death everyone is talking about, it's entirely from self-inflicted wounds. As an industry, we expect clients to hire us to help them grow their businesses by getting customers' attention, by proving relevance and by demonstrating value. Yet we seem unable, as an industry, to do this for ourselves -- and this week, year after year, proves it.
David Melançon is CEO of Ito Partnership, an independent brand-development firm based in New York.

A session titled "Digital Revolutionaries" showed promise in this year's program -- smart industry leaders who should prove inspiring or, at the very least, instructional. Yet the so-what, "duh" platitudes mouthed by these smart people were hardly revolutionary: the internet is the Wild West (I haven't heard that before -- at least not in the last 10 minutes); the audience requires function, not just form (wow -- we're now getting up to 1997 or so; is someone from MarchFirst on this panel?); campaigns must be integrated (hmmm ... maybe my dictionary widget has a different definition of "revolutionary") etc. Seriously, this panel, as smart as they were, was not only not advertising's answer to Che Guevara -- they aren't even keeping up with Darwin.

While both evolution and revolution were high on everyone's list of talking points, they didn't seem to be much in evidence in what anyone was actually doing. Whether it was cow-costumed icons representing a fast-food chicken brand that New York-bound advertisers likely don't know (and understand no better because of the cows) or cheap boxer shorts emblazoned with CYA being used to promote a little-known media site, the week was more about gimmick than substance.

Much of the talk centered on the need, desire and mandate to change -- but despite the consistent rhetoric, very little change was on display. I didn't attend every session, but panel-after-hyperbole-filled-panel didn't change my opinion. Then again, vehemently saying you "get it" while continuing to act like you wouldn't "get it" if "it" were giving you a lap dance isn't a convincing strategy.

So, while it's fresh in everyone's mind -- and before Jonah Bloom has to insult another gnome-toting-CMO at another ad icon panel -- I want to issue a challenge to the organizers of Advertising Week: Make me hopeful again. Make me and all those like me pay attention again. Stop telling us "the world is changing and we're changing with it" while you act like you're living an episode of "Mad Men."

Since we're an industry that likes self-help lists, here are five "easy" steps that would restore my hope in Advertising Week:
  1. Listen to others besides ourselves. I know many of the panelists at this week's festivities -- and I respect all of them. But they are us -- I've heard them before, I know what they're going to say and I know they're going to agree with my point of view (for the most part.) Let's start hearing from people who disagree and aren't afraid to tell us so.

  2. Leave the tired and true behind. Yes -- celebrity endorsement campaigns and character-driven campaigns are established methods for quality advertising and brand-building. We all agree and know that–but we've known it since David Ogilvy was in the boardroom.

  3. Do more than talk about important issues. Darfur, presidential politics, diversity in the workplace and sustainability were all on the agenda this year -- great. Did we do more than talk about them? Let's use sessions like these to decide how our industry can be a real part of solving these problems. And then do it.

  4. Understand the latest trends before we declare them a "silver bullet." From pop-up stores to consumer-generated advertising to social-networking to online avatar-filled communities, our industry seems to quickly grab at the latest idea no matter what the brand or what problem we're trying to solve.

  5. Let's demonstrate balls and brains at the same time. Why are the brave creatives and the savvy business types always in separate rings of this circus? It's time to start showing the world that while creativity may be our business, it's a business -- and we all know it and act like it.
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