Editorial: Ad for event misses the point

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If there was a knock on last year's Advertising Week in New York, it was over the parade of ad icons. The opening-day stunt was designed to get attention-and it did-but the march of Mr. Clean and the M&Ms up Madison Avenue was criticized as promoting an outmoded image of an industry that has changed with the times. Now Advertising Week's organizers have foolishly put another stereotypical image of advertising on parade.

In a print ad hyping next month's event, a close up of a woman's breasts barely restrained in a bustier appear above the headline "Advertising: We All Do It." (Full disclosure: the ad ran in the July 18 issue of Advertising Age). The furor came fast as women weighed in, denouncing it as "moronic" and "tired."

"What does this tell you about Advertising Week? Is the event a strip show?" asked an incensed Liz Schroeder, executive director of Advertising Women of New York. "Apart from the fact that it is degrading and sexist, it totally misses the point of the show."

The show's point, according to event co-chairman Ken Kaess in an interview last year, is to "improve the value of advertising and the perception of what we do." That's one thing the ad, which coincidentally was created by Mr. Kaess' agency, DDB New York, certainly does not do. Instead, it plays right into the stereotypical view of advertising as cheap and sleazy. "This is exactly the kind of stuff the industry should be trying to get away from. The old guys at the golf club," said a male industry executive.

Whether the ad is hopelessly sexist may be up for debate. But it's unquestionably counterproductive in an era where advertising, more than ever in its history, needs to achieve buy-in with consumers. With the consumer now firmly in control, marketers need to win their way into consumers' lives with clever, compelling and effective messages. Ads like this surely aren't the way to do it.

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