At Ad:Tech, Gazing Into The Crystal Ball

The secret to Wayne Gretzky’s success? Skate to where the puck is going to be. Taking a page from the Great One’s hockey playbook, Hewlett-Packard’s Mary Bermel told the Ad:Tech conference in New York last week that “we need to show up where our customers are going to be.”

HP has bought tens of thousands of keywords it thinks Web surfers will use when searching for technology. And the $100 million-plus broadcast advertiser is spending more on cable and experimenting with interactive TV and mobile marketing, said Bermel, the company’s director of interactive communications.

As consumers gain more control over the content they consume—and when and how they consume it—client and agency executives are coming to terms with no longer being in the driver’s seat. “Marketers no longer own their brands, and agencies no longer own the brands. The consumer owns the brands,” said Avi Dan, managing partner and director of new business at WPP Group’s Berlin Cameron/Red Cell in New York, in his keynote address Wednesday at the Hilton.

For the most part, attendees embraced the idea of the empowered consumer—one who can fast-forward through commercial pods with a DVR, self-publish via Weblogs and download music and video online anytime.

Calling this time a “renaissance in marketing,” Mike Windsor of Creative Artists Agency said, “This is so much better than doing an ad and blasting people into submission.

“Left to our own devices, we will just bombard people, and we call it personalized because we throw their names at the top,” added the former OgilvyInteractive CEO, who joined CAA in October to head its marketing department.

“Marketing is not about what you say but how you behave and engage with the consumer,” said Rob Cosinuke, president of Digitas in Boston.

Intrusion is out. Engagement and involvement is in. That was the underlying theme of the three-day conference, which attracted 7,000 registrants, up 40 percent from last year.

Speakers applauded immersive brand experiences, like the campaign for Microsoft’s Halo 2 videogame, which had gaming geeks searching for clues to a puzzle and helped generate more than 1.5 million pre-orders.

Because of the power shift, advertisers are spending more on the Web, a give-and-take medium. A recent survey conducted for the American Advertising Federation found that online ad budgets currently represent an average of 8 percent of media spending.

That same study found that three-quarters of ad leaders believe DVRs will have a significant effect on TV advertising. Of all the talk about the death of the 30-second spot, Dan said, “I have two words: Super Bowl.”

In fact, Dan said, TiVo is the best thing to happen to creative since the Bill Bernbach era. “Good advertising, when it’s informative, relevant and entertaining, is never zapped,” he said. Windsor disagreed, saying commercials are ignored 364 days of the year.

Ironically, as the Web becomes more like TV, due to increased broadband penetration, getting marketers to allocate more money to it will get easier, said Derrith Lambka, svp at WPP’s Millward Brown. “I use the analogy of ‘you don’t see a lot of older people snowboarding,’ ” she said. “They know it’s a new and up-and-coming thing. They’ll give their kids lessons, but they’ll say, ‘Wear a helmet.’ “