The International Association of Advertising is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, and it's booked conferences in Beijing, Moscow and Ghana. It is also kicking off an ad campaign on behalf of advertising to celebrate the occasion.
My Dad, G.D. Crain Jr., who started Advertising Age, was very active in the IAA, and I've covered IAA conferences in such far-flung places as Sao Paulo, Manila, and Dubai, not to mention Moscow.
This year's World Congress will be held in Beijing from May 8-10. The editor-in-chief of Ad Age's licensee in China, Chen Yong, is one of the leaders of the China Advertising Association, which is co-sponsoring the conference.
A couple of the conferences caused quite a stir. I was in Dubai in 2006 when the head of the Dubai chamber of commerce delivered a lot more than the usual welcome speech. Obaid Humaid Al Tayer, also a prominent publisher, drew applause when he said the Western media had created an image of the Arab as "womanizer, greedy, corrupt, lazy, illiterate, rich, anti-Semitic and male chauvinist." He asked whether the West "has something against Arab people."
Mr. Al Tayer declared that the U.S. has one of the "least free" media environments. "It's closed to others, but they keep lecturing about freedom of speech. It's a double standard."
Mr. Al Tayer's publishing company put out the IAA Congress Daily, and his speech was splashed all over the front page, with the headline, "Obaid Al Tayer Challenges for Change." Other speakers had brief stories on inside pages.
I was in Moscow in 2007 for the World Advertising Forum (IAA was one of the sponsors) when a French outdoor executive offered the mayor of Moscow $200 million to provide free toilets and bicycles for the city in exchange for prime outdoor space in downtown Moscow.
Jean-Francois Decaux made his pitch as Russian advertising people met privately with the mayor of Moscow to thank him for his support of the ad meeting.
Mr. Decaux's lavish offer sent local outdoor companies into despair over what they considered his preemptive move. At the time, a number of outdoor execs told me how unfair Mr. Decaux's offer was. "We don't have a private plane, we don't have villas in Europe, we can't promote ourselves in front of officials in city hall," one lamented.
Vladimir Makarov, chairman of the committee for advertising, information and design for the city of Moscow and head of the organizing committee for the ad forum, said he knew in advance of Mr. Decaux's offer. He added that he, too, thought that its timing was "inappropriate" -- but he didn't try to block it.
The Russian billboard people suspected that Mr. Makarov was the person who greased the wheels for Mr. Decaux to make his pitch, even though he gave the appearance of opposing the deal.
Nothing came of the Decaux proposal. Mr. Makarov was fired from his job and went briefly to jail, and the Moscow mayor was also removed from office. Those developments were seemingly unrelated to billboards-for-bicycles, but who really knows?
As the head of the Russian IAA chapter told me at the time, today's Russians are influenced by two great traditions: the czars of the 18th century and the communists of the 20th century. They both operated under the assumption that "your confusion is my victory." So yes is no and black is white, he told me.
I like that kind of environment. Sign me up for next fall's Moscow Ad Summit in October.
Another billboard company, oOh! Media Australia, is supporting the IAA's ad campaign to promote the case for advertising.
The campaign kicked off in Sydney in conjunction with an IAA Leadership Forum there. The theme, "Advertising. Your Right to Choose," emphasizes how ads promote choices, educate and inform, and contribute to the costs of providing news and entertainment.
IAA Managing Director Michael Lee said IAA is scheduling the campaign -- based on chapter activity -- in the UAE, India, Lebanon, Denmark, Pakistan and Serbia. It will appear in print, out of home and digital.
Faris Abouhamad, chairman of IAA and managing partner of Interone Resonance Middle East, an independent agency network in Dubai, likes the IAA's USP: "Our membership composition, truly global footprint, and fascinating levels of access give the IAA an edge to weigh in on freedom of speech, responsibility of advertisers, even the value of advertising [and other] issues that face us."
And, Mr. Abouhamad added: "Oh, and we'll probably be blowing our own trumpet a bit more! I think we can do that!"