[orlando, fla.] Not too long ago the annual conference of the Association of National Advertisers was a clubby event where marketers didn't do much more than compare the prices they were getting for their TV spots and, of course, hit the links a few times.
The golf, naturally, is still a big draw, but these days the annual gathering is better known as the preeminent stage on which to watch the drama of modern marketing play out as big-name advertisers wrestle with the myriad challenges facing them, from the rise of consumer-generated media to increased pressure on accountability and the difficulty of differentiating in a competitive business environment. This year's theme of brand reinvention, with top marketers from recently embattled brands such as Burger King, Wal-Mart and Charles Schwab, only highlighted the dramatics.
As the program grows more serious and the names grow bigger-the marquee was topped this year by Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley-the ranks of attendees have swelled, and it's not just marketers mobbing the hotels. Agencies increasingly see the event as a hunting ground for clients, not to mention a place to play defense against the advances of rivals. As a result, turnout was high among agency delegations, which included everyone from network CEOs to business-development types.
marketers get the drill
Organizers expected about 1,000 attendees this year, including 425 ANA members. Just four years ago, in the midst of the economic downturn, the conference attracted only 55 members and 270 attendees.
Credit at least part of that improved turnout to the simple fact that the average marketer's job has gotten more complex as consumers, increasingly playing around with emerging media channels, become harder to target. Reaching a target audience isn't as simple as cranking out a 30-second spot, and more and more marketers are reacting by shifting budgets into interactive media.
Robert Liodice, ANA president-CEO, contends the amount of change in marketing over the past three to five years-demands for accountability, reordering of media new and old-"probably equals the amount of change over the past 30" years.
But there is good news: Marketers get the drill. "The mood is one of 'We're getting this,"' Mr. Liodice said. "We're reaching a point where not only are we getting it, but we're doing it." Mr. Liodice said he sees "a growing level of confidence" among marketers. "I won't say it's confident, but increasing confidence," he said.
Here are some highlights:
* Stephen Quinn, senior VP-marketing at Wal-Mart, discussed how the retailer is segmenting customers, customizing stores and improving the quality of its products as part of its plan to drive growth. Wal-Mart, he said, is working hard to learn more about the customer and answer the question: "What does she hire us to do?" He also credited Wal-Mart's CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. with taking the initiative to talk with the retailer's critics in hopes of improving the company's business and reputation.
* Mr. Lafley's refrain that we now live in a "let-go world" was refreshing. Thanks to 30 or so years of media fragmentation and the recent rise of user-generated content, he said, marketers are most likely to succeed and be "in touch" when they let consumers be in control. Mr. Lafley showed a Pringles spot made by a teen from the United Kingdom and distributed on YouTube. And, in pure P&G fashion, he even set up a matrix with two axes, "in control" and "in touch," where "in-touch" represents how much control marketers cede.
contributing: bradley johnson, kate macarthur