Where are the revolutionaries?

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Talk about a squandered opportunity: Titans of the media industry turned out to speak at Advertising Week-and had nothing to say.

There was an all-star lineup for many sessions that offered many worthwhile lessons and tidbits; Tom Schumacher even got the famously private John Wren to open up. But when push came to shove, about the most provocative comment made during the industry's recent confab was Martha Stewart's remark that her lawyer wanted her to waffle.

It's a regrettable commentary on an industry supposedly on the bleeding edge of popular culture, one that gives a lot of lip service to calls for action and motivating the consumer. And it is by no means limited to Advertising Week; far too many of the usual conferences have served up smart speakers who stick to safe topics and warmed-over case studies.

Whatever happened to the industry's paradigm-shifters? The advertising world is in the throes of the biggest upheaval since the advent of TV, and the revolutionaries are nowhere to be found. Instead, there are predictable arguments from predictable sources: The old-media mavens espouse the importance of integrated solutions with new media, and new-media moguls chatter politely about spreading the wealth with network TV. Just once we'd like to hear a broadcast-booster bash the whole concept of broadband marketing or the other way around. At least it would get a decent debate going.

Of course, it takes courage to be an agitator. And that's exactly what's needed to stimulate an industry on the brink of an entirely new, if you'll forgive us, advertising age.

At this writing, the Association of National Advertisers' meeting hasn't convened yet in Orlando-and it will be wrapped up by the time you're reading this. Without benefit of hindsight, we are hoping that the reinvention and innovation theme-and a roster including keynoter A.G. Lafley and big-thinking creative minds such as Russ Klein and James McDowell-will generate a much-needed provocative spark.

The industry most certainly needs one.
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