Orlando, Fla., is a town synonymous with escapism, so perhaps it was fitting that the 2008 Assn. of National Advertisers' "Masters of Marketing," the key marketing meeting of the year, is taking place there (Oct. 16-19).
Perhaps it was the sunny weather or the welcome excuse to escape the workaday routine, but there was little hand wringing, at least from the stage, about the ugly economic news over the last few weeks. However, the mood among the 1,000 or so attendees may have been a touch more sour.
That's not to say the event exists in a bubble. In his introduction, Robert Liodice, ANA president and CEO, made mention of the dire state of the economy, but was quick to point out marketing's role as a counterpoint. Marketers, he said, account for about 20% of economic activity and about 21 million jobs. Strong brands create wealth, a point he underscored by noting that General Electric's brand is now worth $52 billion versus $42 billion in 2003, per Interbrand, New York.
The marketers who followed his lead were cautiously upbeat as well. Jim Stengel, the soon-to-be-departing CMO of Procter & Gamble, for instance, said he saw "a lot of good opportunities" in the downturn, pointing out that P&G had no reason to fear that consumers would trade down to private label versions of its products. "In these times, people are looking for value," said Stengel. "If they are looking for the right value, I think we'll be able to give them it."
As Stengel saw it, there were other things for marketers to focus on to improve their brands, including improving relationships with agencies. "There are a lot of conversations between clients and agencies that are not focused right," he said, citing discussions about compensation as a prime example.
Liodice and Stengel both alluded to the stress between short-term results and long-term brand building, which could be taken as a sign they expect such pressure to continue in these market conditions.
Meanwhile, Michael Mendenhall, CMO at Hewlett-Packard, spoke little about the economy. He instead focused on the dominance of Web 2.0, which he said brings challenges and opportunities to brands. He cited Twitter as a new media force to be reckoned with, having become a source for such news stories as hurricanes and even the discovery of water on Mars. As an example of the power of social networking sites, Mendenhall pointed out that the "Obama Girl" video, which featured model Amber Ettinger singing a love song to the candidate, wasn't generated by the campaign, but but was part of the media landscape that the campaign had to consider.
Mendenhall welcomed efforts by consumers to mash-up current HP TV spots. He treated those in the audience to a fan's riff on a recent Shaun White "Hands" ad that showed the snowboarder outlining how he used his HP notebook. The fan's mash-up was a reverent attempt at self-expression and self-promotion. Mendenhall stressed that he wasn't saying that TV, radio and print were finished, but he did question whether the model would change at some point. "If I can create my own network, what do I need others for?" he asked.
Finally, Andrew Robertson, CEO at BBDO Worldwide, New York, gave an entertaining talk on a recent agency study on consumer rituals, which ranged from "preparing for battle" (i.e. getting dressed for work in the morning) to "lockdown" (the time before you go to bed and lock all the doors and windows). Robertson's advice to brands was to get insinuated into consumer rituals by making explicit pitches to their states of mind at the time. For example, in courting consumers attempting to ward off heart attacks, Bayer, for example, would benefit by addressing the post-lockdown "secure" phase where consumers ready themselves for the worst rather than try to address the "preparing for battle" phase in the morning, when vitamins might be a better sell.