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Rising interest in brand equity could be good news for the beleaguered field of corporate image advertising. So concluded 50 marketing academics and practitioners at a Northwestern University conference this month.

As Harry Davis, former Association of National Advertisers chairman and former director of corporate communications of Du Pont Co., told the group: "The trends are pretty clearly tracked by the [ANA's] Corporate Advertising Practices study. In terms of corporate advertising activity, program budgets dropped like a rock from 1988 to 1991. Spending has increased a smidgen since then but not enough to see any stronger commitment or resurgence."

There are some signs, however, that more dollars will be put behind corporate ad efforts. For one thing, corporate ad programs seem well-positioned to benefit from the marketing community's intense interest in building and using brand equity.

"Organizations are making huge changes in [their approaches to] branding," said professor Peter H. Farquhar of the Claremont Graduate School, "and ultimately, it will converge at the level of the corporate brand."

Even Procter & Gamble Co. reportedly is rethinking its policy of keeping a low corporate profile. P&G Chairman-CEO "Ed Artzt seems to be saying that they are going to trim back the number of brands ... and we think he is going to embark on a P&G corporate brand campaign and sustain that campaign over a long period of time," said conference organizer William J. McGuire, corporate advertising manager for Business Week.

Activity from foreign competitors is also stimulating interest.

"If you look at Siemens and Ericsson and ABD and Daiwa and Mitsubishi and others, these guys have done substantial campaigns," Mr. McGuire said. "They have really put on a big push to brand their corporations."

Business Week and the Medill School of Journalism sponsored the Corporate Advertising & Communications Symposium.

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