Each installment of Advertising Week has been a little better than the one before. In its second year, the organizers reduced the number of venues in order to contain the conference sprawl; in its third, they diminished the amount of attention given the icons. These moves haven't done much to solve the event's deep-seated identity crisis and excitement deficit, but, to the organizers' credit, they've made one or two incremental improvements to an all-and-all messy affair each and every year.
Ever year, that is, until this one.
The fourth time around for the ad business' annual moment of celebration was a major disappointment, thanks to a completely uninspired agenda. It's that simple. The series of panels were made up of the same topics and participants that make up the agenda of just about every other industry conference. Sure, the icons were properly reduced to a sideshow, but they were still somehow distractions. More important, there were no surprises and no must-sees among the rest of the program, just the nonstop babble of intelligence-insulting, soul-dampening, pulse-deadening conference speak that, in apparently unintentional ways, did more to throw a light on the industry's problems than its opportunities. With the exception of a Brooklyn-based high school for advertising, the program yielded very little buzz. That's curious for what's essentially an industry PR event.
One panel, titled "The Grandmasters," wherein "leading luminaries opine on the current and future state of the industry," is a case in point. It featured a quintet of ad veterans who, doubtless, know a thing or two about a thing or two. Problem was, all these men were a) men, b) white, c) members of the ad establishment.
Now, this is a business that suffers from both a well-known lack of diversity and well-founded sense of anxiety about its relevance in the digital age. Is this the message the Advertising Week organizers really want to send about the future of the business?
The advertising industry can only benefit from an image that's a lot less country club and little more Facebook. And that will help to change Advertising Week, simply by making it a demonstration of what advertising is when it's at its best -- something a little bit exciting.