Dawn Hudson, president of PepsiCo's Pepsi-Cola North America, said she saw moderate, cautious reason for optimism, as opposed to a huge reason to greatly ramp up ad spending.
Ms. Hudson spoke on a panel comprising three of the nation's top six advertisers as well as the nation's biggest media agency. Alec Gerster, CEO of Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative Media Worldwide, the top media shop, said the immense uncertainty late last year about the economy appears to have abated. "This year will be a moderate [spending] increase off a very soft base," he said.
With media options increasing and consumers overwhelmed with information, panelists said marketers must work even harder to convey their messages.
"If you're only about 30-second spots on TV, you're in trouble," said Julie Roehm, director of Dodge communications at DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler Group. "It's up to us to find ways to continue to communicate with the consumer in relevant ways."
James Stengel, global marketing officer for Procter & Gamble Co., agreed: "The era of pushing messages to the consumer is over. You have to be part of her [life]."
The big spenders weren't overly concerned about ad industry consolidation and said it actually could bring benefits as bundling can help companies better communicate with targets.
Publicis Groupe's impending acquisition of Bcom3 Group will unite two of P&G's three main agency company networks; only Grey Global Group will remain unattached. But as long as the relationship is managed carefully, Mr. Stengel said, "I don't see the downside. ... Consolidation is inevitable, and it offers tremendous possibilities for us, and I'm very happy it's happening."
Ms. Hudson said that while one-stop shopping at agency networks can help clients, she does not envision limiting herself to just one agency partner. Pepsi-Cola's primary agency is Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, though sibling Element 79 Partners, Chicago, handles brands such as Aquafina.
Given innovations such as TiVo, which allows consumers to skip commercials, panelists said companies need more good, original programming that can accommodate appropriate product placement, plus other marketing tools such as direct mail.
TiVo, whose shareholders include AOL Time Warner's America Online and General Electric Co.'s NBC, drew attention at the conference. TiVo as of April 30 reported only 422,000 subscribers-just one in 250 U.S. households. But a show of hands suggested about one of five AdWatch attendees owns a TiVo-and half of these users indicated they zap ads some or all of the time.
Said Ms. Hudson: "I love TiVo as a consumer, and I hate it as an advertiser."