Lesson from ANA: Quit whining, get working

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[Phoenix] It's getting better.

Following years of teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing over the collapse of the TV ad-centric marketing model, there was an air of optimism at the nation's largest annual gathering of advertisers last weekend.

As the Association of National Advertisers conference kicked off with record attendance-with 900 attendees, the event has more than tripled in size since 2002-there was less shouting down of ad agencies and less talk of busted-up models. And, while it was clear that marketers, perplexed by an ever-fragmented media environment, are scrambling wildly for new ways to do things, at least some of those grabs are yielding real results.

"We still need a way to make what we do accountable, to show CEOs what we're doing, and that's top of mind at this conference," said Gary Elliott, VP- brand marketing, Hewlett-Packard, in an interview. "But there's clearly an acceptance that those people who are still just throwing out marketing the old way are in big trouble, and there is a lot more talk of solutions."

In a slick production, Jim Stengel, global marketing officer for the Procter & Gamble Co., praised an environment of risk-taking and experimentation in developing creative and media solutions that better reach increasingly hard-to-find consumers. Instead of focusing on problems, he talked about three P&G campaigns notable for sidestepping media pitfalls and he rolled a mock reel on product "synergies" between P&G mainstays and additions to its portfolio from the recently approved Gillette Co. acquisition.

Mr. Stengel's optimism was noteworthy because he is well-known for giving provocative speeches that set industry-wide agendas, including one last year that slapped agencies with a C- grade and another that described the mass-marketing model as broken.

"I don't think there's anyone fighting change or holding onto the past," Mr. Stengel said in an interview after his speech. There was "a lot of that a few years ago."

Good vibrations

In the interview, Mr. Stengel stressed that no single marketing strategy will replace the now widely discredited mass approach. Instead it's a matter of mind-set in which marketers embrace the changing world in a way that's appropriate to their specific business.

"I don't think that there's one model or template," he said.

Advertising shops have a place at the table in this changing world-they just need to share it with media, public-relations and design agencies, to name a few. "Our partners are more important to us than they were" a few years ago, he said.

Beyond Mr. Stengel's speech, good vibes came from the general consensus that the ANA is taking seriously its leadership role for marketers. Attendance this year was a record, up more than 30% from last year.

But the mood was far from Pollyanna-ish. The dialogue was focused on marketing accountability, always a hot-button issue that's only grown in relevance in recent years. Mr. Stengel, for one, stated that measurement is lagging behind marketing innovation. And Google Chairman-CEO Eric Schmidt, recently quoted as calling marketing budgets "the last bastion of unaccountable spending in corporate America," was expected to have strong words on the issue.

Indeed, many marketers remain overly cautious and risk averse, Allstate Insurance Co. Chief Marketing Officer Joe Tripodi said in an interview. "Many marketers are deer in the headlights, and you've got to get out of the headlights," he said.

During a presentation, Jerri DeVard, senior VP-brand management and marketing communications for Verizon, warned that marketers who aren't in front of their consumers are in trouble. Rather than being hung up about the latest trend-say, branded entertainment-marketers need an understanding "of what the influencing consumer wants."

To that end, Verizon has been relentless in establishing itself in a dizzying array of new media-blogs, podcasts, video on demand-to stay in front of the 18-to-34-year-old consumer. It also tailors communications for each medium. Rather than retrofitting TV commercials to run on broadband, it has created testimonials in which people talk about how broadband has affected their lives.

"Where we talk to consumers is as important as what we say," she said.

On the Web

For full coverage of the ANA conference, including video reports, log on to AdAge.com QwikFIND aaq86n.

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