Reporter's Notebook: Last Week's American Advertising Federation Conference

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The you're-in-San-Francisco-now moment:

On the Sunday the conference began, Rick Squire, executive director of the Cleveland Advertising Association, greeted arriving delegates dressed as the "Birdman of Alcatraz." Mr. Squire carried a battery-operated crow, that when touched, winked and issued a "caw."

For Mr. Squire, the costuming was somewhat traditional and perhaps even mundane. Last year at AAF's convention in Nashville, he dressed as Dolly Parton and the year before at the Dallas convention as a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader. This year he said he was going to come as Marilyn Monroe (a play on the Joe DiMaggio connection) but couldn't get into the dress.

The then-again-you-already-knew-that moment:

The day before the AAF conference started one local protest seen by a reporter featured nude bicycle riders.

Signs of the times:

AAF's theme this year was taking charge of change and while much of the discussion and comments were pretty serious, Andrew Zolli, founder of Z & Partners, a future consultancy, started his discussion by highlighting the problems of reading mixed-up signs in today's world.

Among his examples: A large street sign saying in big letters "Don't Touch the Edges of This Sign" and in small letters "The bridge is out" and a bilingual tag on a T-shirt offering English care instructions and in French those same instructions with the added words "we are sorry about our President. We didn't vote for him."

The new creativity and an ad legend's pet project:

Keith Reinhard, chairman emeritus of DDB Worldwide, offering a perspective on how the role of the agency had changed, said DDB had developed products aimed at cat lovers, among them cat water in several flavors: plain, salmon and tuna. He showed pictures of the products and labels, all of them containing a drawing of a cat.

At a party later in the convention, Mr. Reinhard expressed some dismay that DDB's cat brands didn't draw more media attention. Turning a bit, umm, catty, he noted that BBH had announced plans to develop products, but DDB had been there first. Mr. Reinhard said he has been working with partners for some 10 years on a line of products DDB would usher through from concept to packaging, to distribution.

He said when it came to launching the brands, DDB wasn't pussyfooting around.

Levy on agencies, Aegis and Joe and Jane Despot:

Publicis Groupe chairman-CEO Maurice Levy called consumers "enlightened despots" and warned that print publications' per-copy newsstand pricing falls apart in the face of free internet content. He was no more optimistic when it came to predictions about the agency of the future.

He said the agency of the future wouldn't be the one that did this or that. He explained that amid all the expected changes in the ad business, it would simply be any one left standing or as he put it, "one that is still around."

Mr. Levy was coy about whether he had completely abandoned plans to get Aegis. "We are not in that race," he said of the possibility of launching a bidding war against Vincent Bollore. But when asked whether he might eventually team up with his fellow Frenchman for a takeover, he repeated the previous stance against a bidding war, then for emphasis repeated a number of times "for the time being."

Don't even think about calling IPG a brand

Interpublic chief Michael Roth took a leaf out of Omnicom chief John Wren's book when he told attendees that Interpublic isn't a brand. "We are not a brand. We don't pretend to be a brand, and frankly we shouldn't be a brand," he said. In his view, the holding company should act as a facilitator, making policies, providing resources, improving collaboration and financially supporting its brands-that is, its individual agencies. No comment from this reporter on how it's fared in that regard in the last few years.

Ozzy live and very-much plugged

It wasn't exactly a "Naked Gun" repeat, but Yahoo Chief Operating Officer Dan Rosensweig got some unwanted words in his speech as the microphones of the next two speakers, Judy Hu, GE's executive director of advertising and branding, and John Osborn, president-CEO of BBDO Chicago, got turned on too early. Fortunately, their greeting of each other backstage-overheard by the entire audience-extended little beyond a suggestion that they were looking forward to a panel. Reports that Ozzy, as Osborn is known to his chums, was also heard retiring to the restroom in the style of "Naked Gun's" Leslie Nielsen proved-sadly-to be somewhat exaggerated.
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