Editorial: A question for ANA delegates

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A bit of ad world "normality" has been restored. A year after the Association of National Advertisers annual conference was cancelled in the fear and confusion following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, top advertising and marketing executives are again leaving the office for their yearly ANA reunion. Confusion and fear still abound, judging by the daily business headlines, making the optimism or pessimism ANA attendees bring to the conference its own "leading indicator" of what's in store for the months ahead.

Despite fourth-quarter uncertainties for retailers, and a recent squall line of other troublesome business news, a poll of 32 economic forecasters, released Sept. 30 by the National Association for Business Economics, predicted economic growth this year of 2.4%-growing very modestly to a 3.2% rate in 2003. That's hardly a heady "expansion" (and one that a Mideast war could certainly deflate), but slow-and-steady may be enough to get corporate CEOs investing in marketing again.

ANA members, however, can't escape the continuing need to re-examine how they go to market. They are now flocking back to the familiar world of the TV spot, but CEOs and chief financial officers will not soon forget all the talk about the declining effectiveness of conventional advertising. And now accounting rule changes are highlighting the true costs of another marketing staple, trade and consumer discounting programs.

ANA's conference unsurprisingly focuses on the importance of what its member executives contribute to their corporations: brand-building know-how. We'd hope CEOs and chief financial officers today don't need convincing about that. But top corporate executives are right to expect their marketing experts to be constantly testing and examining the status quo of marketing. ANA attendees-on the program, over coffee, at the pool or on the golf course this week-should be asking one another how well they're doing at that task.

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