Four A’s Conference Touts Change - Spouts Same Old Clichés

14 April 2003

New Orleans reeled under the weight of accumulated clichés as the 85th annual management conference of the American Association of Advertising Agencies reached its end this weekend.

Ironically, the overriding message from the legion of speakers was ‘change’. According to Advertising Week's report: “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.”

Maybe it was all that dreamy Southern air but J Walker Smith, president of research firm Yankelovich Partners, ranged from psychiatric to mystic mode.

A sense of anxiety, he opined, was driving a shift in consumer values, triggered by the economic downturn, terrorist acts, corporate and religious scandals and now, the war in Iraq.

Then, Zen. “It's the emergence of the post-accumulation marketplace,” Smith meditated. “It’s not about what I possess. It’s far more about what we experience together.”

Elsewhere at the conference, cliché was king.

GSD&M chief executive Roy Spence explained to an audience of professionals 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 Junior also caught the mood of the moment. Explaining his company’s new marketing policy, Lamar expounded this great truth: “We can't be all things to all people and for McDonald’s, that's a significant change.”

Not to be outrun in the cliché stakes, Bob Schmetterer, president and chief operating officer of Havas invoked Euro RSCG Worldwide’s work for the Paris Metro underground system. This, he hyped, exemplified the need for creative thinking, particularly that which extends beyond advertising into business ideas.

AdWeek summarized Schmetterer: “The client asked for an ad campaign and the agency instead suggested new subways cars, underground shops, cafes and internet stations, among other things.” [Um – isn’t that identical to the strategy, internet stations excepted, employed by every airline across the globe for the last forty years?]

AAAA chief executive O Burtch Drake reported that attendance at the conference was down on last year’s event by around seventeen percent – from 300 to around 250.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff