10 Biggest Stories of 2004

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1. Is it dead yet?

The consumer continues to seize control and last rites are read for the mass market-over and over. Procter & Gamble's A.G. Lafley decrees marketing needs a new model to replace mass-marketing techniques and CMO Jim Stengel looks for life "beyond the 30-second spot." American Express chief John Hayes exhorts attendees at Ad Age's Madison & Vine conference to shatter the boundaries of mass marketing. Let's lay this one to rest, finally.

2. Marketers give `til it hurts

Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive vowed to spend more on marketing, despite the fact that it will depress earnings. Kraft Foods committed to spend another $600 million in marketing. Coca-Cola promised some $400 million in its "manifesto for change," begging stockholders' for giveness for the short-term hit to pay off with long-term gains. Now, let's see if these companies hold to their New Year's resolutions.

3. charge of the red brigade

From Janet Jackson's Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction" to the furor over "Desperate Housewives" and the re-election of George W. Bush, the words "moral values" dominated headlines. Yet, audiences talk a blue streak about envelope-pushing programs from "Nip Tuck" to "Rescue Me" that draw big ratings to cable. And HBO's sizzling fare has the broadcast networks eyeing them enviously. What's a network to do?

4. Politics unusual

Not only did the candidates and their supporters spend a record-busting $1.6 billion on advertising, the rules of engagement changed. The Bush camp's extensive research led to a strategy shift in how it buys media. Kerry supporters brought event marketing to a new level with a star-studded concert series. When the mud-slinging finally stopped, it was clear that the tactics used in election 2004 would alter the political marketing game forever.

5. Famous farewells

Domestic diva Martha Stewart went off to jail. "Friends" left NBC in the lurch . Ogilvy and the White House Drug Office broke their co-dependence as the account moved to Foote, Cone & Belding after turmoil over a billing scandal that resulted in the indictment of former Ogilvy executives, including Shona Seifert, who begins trial early this year. Oh, and Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather retired. Or didn't you notice?

6. Grey market

Who would have believed that after all the years of speculation over when Grey Advertising would finally go up for sale there would be such tepid interest? At first, observers predicted a wrestling match over Grey and its prized Procter & Gamble account. In the end, without much difficulty, Martin Sorrell's WPP triumphed. It swept up the prize while Grey's septugenarian CEO Ed Meyer stands to sweep in millions in compensation-and keep his job.

7. Mergers and divestitures

Kmart's $11 billion purchase of Sears is a bold move that would create the No. 3 retail powerhouse, though experts cautioned it would be a mistake. The $41 billion purchase AT&T Wireless by Cingular created a giant that spent lavishly to show how Cingular has raised the communications bar. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, Kraft Foods raised cash by cutting loose Altoids and Lifesavers, which in turn were snapped up by Wrigley.

8. Advertising gets own week

After some initial skepticism, the American Association of Advertising Agencies managed to pull off an ambitious and well-attended one-week tribute in September to the industry in New York. Though real people were overshadowed somewhat by the parade of icons, the event got plenty of recognition and ink as industry titans were feted at a Gracie Mansion cocktail party.

9. Not such good sports

The Olympics were a ratings triumph, but professional sports hit a nadir this year. The National Hockey League player lockout stranded $460 million in sponsorship dollars and decimated the season. Unsporstmanlike conduct by the Detroit Pistons and the Indiana Pacers fouled basketball's reputation.And the end of the Red Sox curse was eclipsed by a steroid scandal embroiling Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi. Tennis, anyone?

10. Clients crash Cannes

The pristine beaches of the French Riviera were stormed by the likes of McDonald's, Procter & Gamble and other major marketers. While marketers went out of their way to say they would not be a drag, the mere presence of those that pay the bills changed the dynamic at Cannes, a notorious playground for advertising's creative stars. Client parties were sparsely attended and agency types privately rued the intrusion.

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