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Advertising's response to technology-driven media options that will soon confront consumers will be a major theme at the 34th International Advertising Assn. World Congress in Cancun next month.

Called "Reflections: The Future is Now," the May 15-18 meeting will take up subjects from free trade to freedom of speech. But new media and their effect on consumer choice are likely to generate the most discussion among the anticipated 1,000 registrants.

"What we're really talking about is the empowered consumer," said Norman Vale, IAA director general. "Supermarket operators and other retailers have felt that they control distribution, but now manufacturing and service groups can get through to the consumer directly."

Direct marketing through television, interactive media, online services and other new communications technology mean that the consumer no longer needs to go to the store to shop. "We go from market to product as opposed to from product to market," said Mr. Vale.

Among the speakers discussing the theme of advertising and new communications technology will be Tom Rogers, president of NBC Cable & Business Development. He will be looking at the options for advertising in subscriber services and new media.

Those services range from NBC's in-store advertising network to highly targeted niche products such as medical and private financial networks. NBC has organized its cable, international and new media ad sales under one division, where "there's a lot of potential for cross-marketing opportunities," said Mr. Rogers.

However, it's too early to say how advertisers will respond. "There's a whole chicken and egg question-at what point in the development cycle is the advertising dollar going to be there?"

Among other speakers examining new media and the changing consumer will be Stan Shih, chairman and CEO of The Acer Group of Taiwan; Daniel Bell, chairman of Bozell Worldwide; and Michael Bungey, CEO of Backer Spielvogel Bates Worldwide.

Sir Michael Perry, Unilever chairman, a special guest speaker on May 18, will cover the state of the brand in today's rapidly changing retail environment. Also addressing brand value will be Aldo Papone, American Express senior advisor.

The themes of regulation, self-regulation and freedom of commercial speech will also play a major role on the program, said Luis Carlos Mendiola, IAA world president-elect and the conference organizer.

Mr. Mendiola also predicted that newly opening markets and free trade will be a major theme. Mexican Commerce Secretary Jaime Serra Puche is scheduled to speak May 16 about free trade agreements and their impact on the advertising industry.

Although the North American Free Trade Agreement has received the most international attention, Latin American countries are organizing their own free trade zones. Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela are negotiating an agreement and Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay are linked in the Mercosur accord. The Andean and Central American countries are moving to dismantle trade barriers.

"Frontiers will disappear," said Mr. Mendiola, and as markets open, the impact of new media will spread. "Sooner or later, new media will be applied globally," he said.

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