Changing Marketplace Is Focus of 4A’s Conference

NEW ORLEANS Change was the watchword during Wednesday’s general session of the 85th annual management conference of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.

Clients are changing the means by which they seek to connect with consumers, agencies are trying to reinvent themselves in the eyes of clients and consumers increasingly are seeking comfort and connection from brands, speakers told a ballroom full of agency and client executives.

Fueling the shift in consumer values is a sense of anxiety brought on by the economic downturn, terrorist acts, corporate and religious scandals and now, the war in Iraq, said J. Walker Smith, president of research firm Yankelovich Partners. “It’s the emergence of the post-accumulation marketplace,” Smith said. “It’s not about what I possess. It’s far more about what we experience together.”

The changing marketplace underscores the need for creative thinking, particularly that which extends beyond advertising into business ideas, said Bob Schmetterer, president and COO of Havas. Schmetterer, who also is CEO of Euro RSCG Worldwide, cited his agency’s work for the Paris subway system as an example of smart business thinking. The client asked for an ad campaign and the agency instead suggested new subways cars, underground shops, cafes and Internet stations, among other things, Schmetterer said. And those new offerings produced new revenue for the system.

In a speech titled, “The Power of Purpose,” GSD&M CEO Roy Spence emphasized that an agency must really understand its client’s business to get to the core of its brand’s essence. As examples, he cited his agency’s close working relationships with top client executives at Walmart and Southwest Airlines.

McDonald’s chief marketing officer Bill Lamar Jr. explained how the fast food giant’s business strategy has changed amid increased competition and a shift in consumer media consumption. Lamar said the company can no longer rely so heavily on TV spots when younger consumers increasingly seek brand experiences on the Internet. What’s more, McDonald’s is now focusing its marketing efforts on children, women with children and young men. “We can’t be all things to all people and for McDonald’s, that’s a significant change,” Lamar said.

President of the 4A’s Burtch Drake and chairman Ken Kaess focused on association accomplishments and agency success stories in their remarks, which came during the morning session. Kaess cited the 2002 growth of Deutsch and Saatchi & Saatchi, among others, as proof that agencies are “vibrant and growing despite the economic condition.”
Attendence at this year’s conference is down to about 250 from nearly 300 a year ago. Drake attributed the decline to fewer spouses, international attendees and media executives, who last month convened for their own 4A’s conference, also in New Orleans.