Crucial crossroads: at the intersection of Mad + Vine

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Nothing focuses like pain-a point made, well, painfully clear at Advertising Age's first Madison + Vine conference last week.

With apologies for the content-commerce convergence in this column (a.k.a. the chest-thumping), the conference was the hottest ticket in town. A standing-room-only crowd of more than 450 people packed the Rodeo Ballroom of the Beverly Hills Hotel, a crowd notable not just for its quantity but its quality.

These were some of the boldest of bold-face names in film, music, TV, marketing and advertising: music impresario Jimmy Iovine jostling on the coffee line with General Motors media maven Michael Browner; branding guru Peter Arnell in a huddle with hip-hop video director Chris Robinson.

They came looking not for answers but to join a conversation, one that is just beginning but that is crucial to their industries' futures. Absolutely crucial.

In aggressively entering this space-with a weekly Madison + Vine e-mail newsletter, conferences and coverage in print and on AdAge.com-Ad Age communicated its belief that this area is vital to our readers. Our goal was to create a gathering place for these communities to debate and discuss the changes ripping through their business models. This is not about patting Ad Age on the back, but the conference turnout and level of discourse was a dramatic validation of our premise. "If a new model isn't developed," said keynoter Steve Heyer, president of Coca-Cola Co., "the old one will simply collapse."

So these East Coast and West Coast industries, having happily carved up the country decades ago, now find themselves at the same intersection, fierce competitors forced to collaborate. Underlying it all is fear. These are all industries with business models that are fractured and in some cases simply busted. Talent agents. Music executives. Ad agents. Marketers. Film makers. Network chieftains. Their bottom lines all threatened by consumer-empowering technologies.

It's the reason Turner Broadcasting's Jamie Kellner half-jokingly labels a TiVo executive the "anti-Christ" and warns that TV networks will be forced to switch from an ad model to a subscription model, getting consumers to cough up the money advertisers won't spend when their spots are being zapped into oblivion.

The most interesting battle is between talent agencies, trying to position themselves as corporate America's gateway to the entertainment community, and ad agencies, which bristle at any threat to their strategic role and grouse that talent agents aren't accountable and have no understanding of brands. Yet marketers demand collaboration without excuses, and the resulting tension is palpable.

The Madison+Vine name is a colorful description of the intersection of content and commerce, but this discussion is not merely about product placements or a fearful response to the perils facing the 30-second spot.

At its core, we are talking about nothing short of reinventing the business of marketing communications, a fundamental transformation from an intrusion-based marketing economy to an invitation-based model.

The power shift will force change in how marketing communications are defined, created, distributed and consumed. It will make brands, and it will destroy brands. Innovators who respect the transfer of control and invite consumers to interact with brands on their own terms will survive. Resisters will be trampled. The CEO of one ad agency told me, "Nobody wants to live through that period of disruption."

From my vantage point, nobody has a choice.

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