Money, Branding Matters at L.A. Ad Conference

LA QUINTA, CALIF. The annual conference of the Los Angeles Advertising Agencies Association and the Ad Club of Los Angeles opened here with advice on managing finances and ended with a session on brand building.

Suze Orman, columnist, CNBC-TV host and best-selling author of The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous & Broke, opened the conference by challenging the gathering of advertising and media executives to examine their own financial picture. Orman insisted that most people don’t know their personal credit ratings and how much it affects the financial future.

“Every time I speak to the advertising industry, I find that they know their company’s bottom line, but have no idea what their FICO scores are,” she said. “They are financial wrecks.”

Orman, who was recently chosen by U.S. Secretary of the Treasury John Snow to help communicate Social Security issues, said the ad industry uniquely “parallels the economy” in doing well when consumers do well, and vice versa. She advised the audience to invest in real estate for retirement, even at the expense of funding 401ks, and avoid all but term life insurance, bond funds and variable interest loans.

David Carlin, an attorney with the New York ad law firm Reed Smith/Hall Dickler, followed with an examination of potential legal threats to advertising. In one ongoing lawsuit, Hardee v. Kraft Foods, et al., the size of type for a claim of lower sugar was attacked because of an allegation “that the net effect of the advertising was deceptive” because the ad had not communicated enough about the rest of the product.

Showing controversial spots for Xenadrine, Victoria’s Secret, Subway, Verizon Wireless and M-rated games, Carlin pointed to the fallacy of regulating fewer commercials aimed at children as a panacea to such social ills as violence and obesity. He cited statistics on dramatic differences in obesity rates from Mississippi to Colorado, despite uniformity of exposure to commercials.

“The number of commercials for fast food was around 5.5 million in 1983 and it was around 5 million in 2003,” he said. “Again, advertising is the convenient whipping boy for every social problem.” Still, Carlin predicted that another would follow the anti-obesity push: “Within the next year the government will be asking advertisers to tone the violence down.”

Nick Graham of 100 Minute Co., a marketer of the Joe Boxer brand, discussed alternate marketing through publicity-generating stunts. Joe Boxer was marketed with a billboard in New York’s Times Square with a live “zipper” bulletin board that carried e-mail, leading to a public proposal and a publicized marriage. Working with Virgin Airlines’ Richard Branson, Graham ended Fashion Week in Iceland, even though the brand is not sold there. Stunts include the “fastest fashion show in history” (a man wearing Joe Boxer shorts shot from a cannon over a Kmart); polar bear pajamas sent to troops in Iraq; and “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Steak” doggie treats.

“The brand is the amusement park,” Graham said. “The product is the souvenir.”

Marty Ordman of Dole Food ended the day’s conference events with his experience of building the Dole brand in conjunction with the anti-obesity trends and the new food pyramid. His techniques included a series of in-flight videos on healthy eating sponsored by Dole.