ORLANDO (AdAge.com) -- "The Dire State of the Economy" might have been the theme of economist Paul Krugman's talk to the Association of National Advertiser's annual meeting but you'd hardly know it from the atmosphere in the hallways of the bustling Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, where 1,600 attendees -- a record number -- were gathered.
The place was so packed that overflow hotel accommodations were arranged and there were long waiting lists for canceled rooms. At Thursday's lunch, the ballroom was so crowded that additional tables had to be rolled in by hotel staffers as executives from the lunch's sponsor, NBC Universal, conducted a panel discussion. Guests were invited to the lunch via a "hand-written" note from NBC President Jeff Zucker, left in their room accompanied by chocolates. Mr. Zucker even showed up (figuratively) in guest's bathrooms, with a hang-tag over the shower head in each room reading, "Do your best ideas happen here?"
Swag was almost everywhere, including a bathrobe that looked very much like the one offered by the Shingle Creek for $75, left in gift bags in attendees' rooms courtesy of AOL. Clear Channel regaled attendees with a private Goo Goo Dolls concert and AETN brought in LeAnn Rimes to perform.
Likely a sign of that dire Krugman economy, hoards of sponsors, vendors, media and agency attendees were here, hoping to hook up some new business with companies that collectively spend $250 billion in marketing. But at times it seemed heavy-handed. Coca-Cola Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer Joe Tripodi joked that his presentation was coming "in between that lunch with Jeff Zucker you got that private note for." And several attendees felt the panel discussion was a lightly disguised sales pitch. "Think of all the expense of jet fuel to bring this high-powered group here," said one conference-goer who was himself from a media company. The group included Mike Pilot, president-NBCU sales and marketing; Bonnie Hammer, president-NBCU Cable Entertainment, Jason Kilar, CEO of Hulu, and Lauren Zalaznick, president-NBCU Women.
Asked about the Krugman talk -- which Cindy Gallop, founder of IfWeRanTheWorld, remarked was "incredibly depressing," -- ANA President-CEO Bob Liodice said, "Even though our focus is on growth, we still have to be attentive to the economic reality we have today. You can't turn your back on that ... you have to create programs to adapt to that."
He did, however, note that the conference results seemed to run counter to the economic outlook. The strong mix of marketers and the marketer's perspective differentiate the ANA from other conferences, he said, plus, another factor that draws crowds is the focus on results rather than just interesting creative. And having a lot of marketers, of course, attracts vendors -- lots of them.
As might be expected, much of the discussion was about interactivity, with podium talk dominated by case study after case study of campaigns using Facebook, Twitter and the like. And the ANA tried to walk the walk by polling the audience via text message, having a roaming videographer asking attendees to do things such as sing a favorite ad jingle, and creating a Twitter handle, #ANAMarketers. But at times it seemed as if there weren't that many marketers practicing what they preached. Most of the Twitter traffic at that handle was from media and agency-side attendees. In fact, Ms. Gallop retweeted a comment from @Hillary_Ashton: "Why don't more CMOs have a Twitter handle?"
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Contributing: E.J. Schultz