New reality: Consumers are in control

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[naples, fla.] It was a media executive rather than a marketer that best summed up the prevailing issue at the Association of National Advertisers' annual meeting last week: "The consumer is the official programmer," declared Terry Semel, CEO and director at Yahoo.

While accountability was still the battle cry among the record 700 attendees-ANA even released a study on the topic-it was clear that marketers are grappling with a world where control is now in the hands of consumers, and they must alter marketing methods to adapt.

"Consumers determine what they want when they want it," Mr. Semel said, which is a prime reason for the shift in dollars from broadcast to cable and Internet and to more nontraditional media in general. It's now a question of "How personalized can you make your brand in my life?"

"Truly the consumer wants to be in control and we want to put them in control," said Roger Adams, executive director-advertising, marketing and CRM for General Motors Corp.

The question is how. Peter Littlewood, senior VP-corporate marketing, Masterfoods USA, was scheduled to discuss that while historically much of media-including the still-pervasive 30-second commercial-has been in the marketers' control, other tactics including public relations and word of mouth "are becoming more important in terms of the impact they have on consumers."

Pete Sealey, the former Coca-Cola executive who is now CEO of Los Altos Group, was slated to speak about how the old days when marketers were "masters" of creating and producing TV advertising are over. Now they must be "maestros" of marketing, symphonic conductors who know all the instruments and lead by example.

the `i' voice

The fact that "today's consumers don't want big business telling them what to do" drove McDonald's to adopt the "I" voice for its "I'm lovin' it," campaign, according to Larry Light, McDonald's exec VP-global chief marketing officer. It is the shift in technology that has allowed McDonald's to direct multiple messages so that refrain rings true for a variety of targets from moms to hip teens, he said, reflecting a strategy he first outlined at Advertising Age's Adwatch conference (AA, June 21).

Agencies should not see the power shift to consumers as a crisis but rather "the world's biggest opportunity," said Kevin Roberts, worldwide CEO at Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi. "Marketers know brands, retailers know shoppers and agencies know consumers," he said.

grab that dough

Barbara Ford, VP-global advertising resources for Kraft Foods, planned to discuss how good agency relationships-which she dubbed "provocateurships"-are crucial to the process. "We need to think about new messages, new placement for messages, new consumer connections and content in ways we could not have imagined 10 years ago," she said. "We cannot afford to remain stagnant, thinking that a 30-second TV commercial is the right answer to all of our challenges."

But while they are racing to explore new marketing approaches in a world of consumer control, marketers are still painfully aware of the need to make them accountable.

Procter & Gamble Co.'s Global Marketing Officer Jim Stengel planned to physically portray the much-talked-about dilemma. In his presentation, he was scheduled to step inside a money booth and grab for dollars to demonstrate today's haphazard methodologies for measuring marketing investment.

The man who shut him in the booth was to be Ted Woehrle, P&G's new VP-marketing, North America. He planned to challenge the audience to "align with one another, invest our time and resources and forge new measurement methods for obtaining the metrics we need to calculate ROI."

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