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Here's what i don't understand about the Association of National Advertisers' controversial move to invite advertising agencies (but no other group) to join its merry band of brand builders.

In another controversial decision, the ANA's rationale for allowing media companies to sponsor its program for the bargain-basement price of $100,000 per session was that the media are great examples of brand building, and that is what the ANA is all about.

As a matter of fact, when officials explained why they are letting agencies under the ANA tent, they emphasized that agencies are their main partners in building brand equity. But asked why media companies didn't qualify, ANA President John Sarsen sniffed to Stuart Elliott of The New York Times that the media are merely "delivery vehicles" and were "at the bottom of the list" when the ANA membership qualifications were drawn up.

Now let's see. ANA was glad to accept the media's $100,000 because they represented stellar examples of brand building, but the media were "at the bottom of the list" for ANA membership.

The media, in other words, are champions of brand building enough to shell out $100,000 per, but not enough to qualify to join the ranks of advertiser and agency brand champions.

The whole thing is nuts. It's nuts to allow anyone to buy the ANA platform, and it's nuts to allow anyone but advertisers to join the ANA.

Pretty soon the ANA will run out of eager and willing program sponsors, and it will have to dredge the bottom of the barrel. I'm not trying to be disparaging here, and I'm sure that they are all very effective ad media, but I'm not looking forward to the day when the ANA is treated to the brand-building magic of subway posters, or orthopedic journals, or some of the more exciting business press titles, such as our own tandem of American Laundry News and American Dry Cleaner.

Or what if the National Association of Girlie Magazines wanted to sponsor a session, complete with a slide show of their most (ahem) creative editorial layouts? If they ponied up the $100,000, could ANA turn them down without the American Civil Liberties Union picketing the joint?

And on the issue of letting agencies join the ANA, this is like management and labor joining forces. Can you imagine the AFL-CIO and the National Association of Manufacturers coming together? Or the NBA and the players union combining their talents?

As I've noted before, advertisers seem to be spending much of their time these days extracting an extra ounce of flesh from their ad agencies, so will advertisers be relegated to holding discussions of agency compensation in one corner of the room, away from their brand-building partners?

Back in the days when the ANA conference was held at the Greenbrier and the Homestead, only a few top agency people attended, by invitation. The idea was then that ANA brass didn't want agency people breathing down the necks of every member. So guests, including the media, were kept under control. It was a big deal to be invited.

But if ANA members are intent on making this change, far be it from me to stand in the way. In fact, I look on it as an opportunity to make a modest, but heartfelt contribution to the industry. We in the journalistic world are accused of taking, taking, taking. Here's my chance to give back.

It no longer makes any sense for the group to call itself by its present name. But since the common denominator of both agency and advertisers is that they are partners in brand building, I humbly suggest that the new name of the organization be Brethren United for Brand Building Association.

I assure you that it's only happenstance that the acronym turns out to be BUBBA.

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