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Association Of National Advertisers Conference '08: That Giddy Grim Feeling

Posted by: Jon Fine on October 17, 2008

Around 1,000 heavies in the ad biz—chief marketing officers, top sales execs at places like Google and Yahoo, magazine publishers, ad agency types—gathered in Orlando yesterday for this year’s Association of National Advertisers conference, and the lovely Florida weather contrasted rather sharply with the grim economic outlook taking shape.

Attendance was high, as were spirits. But in many ways it feels like a kind of last-dance-before-the-apocalypse giddiness, and gallows humor was not hard to find. Presented with a reel of ads at the introductory dinner last night, an agency veteran in attendance audibly groused “this is why we’re in a recession. No one’s buying this [expletive].” In chatter over cocktails and dinner lasyt night, about the nicest outlook execs could come up with was that the downturn will speed a media Darwinism, with the weaker dying much more quickly, or at least shrinking severely. It's common marketer advice to spend going into a recession, but, execs were quick to concede, this rarely happens when companies are under broad financial pressures.

A flash poll taken during this morning’s session showed that 33% of attendees expected their marketing budgets be cut, and 33% expected spending to stay steady but that the dollars will be reallocated—meaning that 2/3 of the attendees expect there to be clear losers from upcoming economic shifts. A key media buyer I buttonholed early this morning expected print media to be the most notable loser of ad dollars, a gloomy forecast echoed by a just-released Standard and Poor’s report. (BusinessWeek and Standard and Poor’s are both owned by The McGraw-Hill Companies.)

Hewlett Packard’s Chief Marketing Officer Michael Mendenhall, in a morning presentation, spoke at length about the emerging global digital conversation—a familiar topic he spiced up with some interesting current factoids. (To borrow one: 76% of Brazilians who are on the Internet use a social network, and over half of these social network users check in with one every day.) In an effort to define the digital playing field—another familiar topic updated with an au courant example—he mentioned Ashley Qualls, an American teenager who’s built a formidable business from a Web site offering ways to spruce up MySpace pages.

Mendenhall said Qualls’ site gets 1.2 million unique visitors a month—a total, he said, that exceeds the combined traffic of the Web sites associated with teen magazines CosmoGirl and Teen Vogue.



The media world continues to shapeshift as new forms arise and old assumptions erode. On this blog, Bloomberg Businessweek will provide sharp analysis and timely reports on the transformation of this constantly changing terrain.



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