Marketing Forum Packs Ship With Ideas, Meetings

Cloudy on two days, blue skies and mild breeze on the third, the 7th U.S. Marketing Forum's venue — the Norwegian Dawn anchored off the coast of New York's trendy Hamptons — could not have been conducive to hard sells.

Organized this month by Britain's Richmond Events, the forum drew its usual blend of marketing executives giving ear to suppliers paying for the privilege of hosting and pitching them. Attendees also could duck into workshops and panel discussions on marketing and branding issues.

“In today's world, the retailers rule, not brands,” said Nancy Carr, director of worldwide advertising and vice president of digital and applied imaging at Eastman Kodak Co. “People are looking to retailers as their brands.”

Carr's session — titled “What is keeping you up at night?” — was packed, with attendees listening to Kodak's strategy to keep up with competition in digital imaging. The session outlined the importance of maximizing the marketing mix, global cultural sensitivity to advertising, competitive tracking and public relations.

As with many manufacturers, channel marketing is critical to Kodak, Carr said. The use of Kodak's sales force to train retail staff, organize demos, clean shelves and distribute eye-catching in-store marketing material helps it navigate what Carr calls the “last 18 inches” of the marketing process.

“We have a saying at Kodak: When you own the channel, you own the market,” she said.

Moving brands internationally was the topic of another discussion. Robin Johnson, president of FT Americas, stressed that companies must know the markets they are entering, commit to the brand heritage, regionalize expressions of messages while maintaining consistent values.

He praised his employer Financial Times, The Economist, Newsweek, McDonald's, Procter & Gamble, HSBC bank and Cosmopolitan magazine for their global marketing savvy. While adapting to local cultures, these brands retained their core essence. British Airways was a case in point.

“When you get on the plane,” Johnson said, “you're in London.”

If they hadn't already met the “brave new man,” Kirk Olson, senior cultural analyst at Iconoculture, introduced this person to another attentive audience. His session highlighted the constant push-pull between the “brave new man masculinity and goddess femininity [that] will continue to define and redefine the social and cultural meanings of gender and the relationships between men and women.”

While baby boomers are seeking balance, Generation Xers and the following Millennials up to age 26 are reassessing their attitudes to foods, media, travel, health, home, retail and beauty products.

The increased male acceptance of spas and jazzed-up hair salons reflects this new thinking, Olson said, albeit with a twist. For instance, a barbershop in Portland, OR, offers beer with each haircut. Rock music plays in the background.

“You've got to have an atmosphere that doesn't feel too precious [for men],” he said. “Mass media is objectifying men in a way they've been objectifying women for centuries.”

Other sessions focused on diversity, ROI on online advertising, marketing to Generation Y, differentiating brands and youth marketing.

CNN “Crossfire” co-host Tucker Carlson kept the peace between a senior Unilever employee defending mass advertising and a former McDonald's executive making the case for neighborhood marketing. The panel's theme: “What if mass media were dead?”

Carlson did not forget his acid.

“Is it possible,” he asked, “to have a big name out there and not be liked — like Al Gore, for instance?”

Among the keynotes, ad veteran Joey Reiman of BrightHouse stressed the importance of the big idea. A hoarse but eloquent Robert Kennedy Jr. defended the environment with a well-received anti-Bush polemic.

Another keynoter, economic forecaster Harry Dent, who predicts based on 40-year cycles, risked his reputation: Dow 40000 by the end of the decade. And who does he think runs the economy?

“It's not Alan Greenspan, it is Homer Simpson,” Dent said, adding a few minutes later, “It's actually sex that drives our economy. An economist who actually had sex could understand that.”

From the client side, delegates represented companies like American Honda, AT&T, Ask Jeeves, Coca-Cola, Cartoon Network, Delta Air Lines, Georgia-Pacific, IBM, Mattel, Merrill Lynch, RadioShack, Safeway, Home Depot, Timex and Yahoo.

Suppliers included A. Eicoff & Co., Alloy, Bloomberg Media, Campbell-Mithun, Castells & Asociados Advertising, Claria, Critical Mass, Carat North America, Hallmark Loyalty, hawkeye/FFWD, Formula PR, The Marketing Store, Meredith Corp., Pohly & Partners, Quaero Corp., Range Online Media, Time Inc. Strategic Communications and Vertis.

Each supplier got 45 minutes with marketing executives who agreed to the match. Some suppliers had 90 meetings.

A new feature this year was Power Dating: five sessions of five minutes each where suppliers stand in line with an elevator pitch to the marketing executive.

“Multicultural marketing, targeting and segmentation, and one-to-one marketing all seemed to be consistent themes with client executives,” said Janice Mayo, senior vice president of national sales and marketing at Vertis. “We also felt they were looking for specialty marketing and promotions companies that could complement their brand agencies.”

BrightHouse's Reiman thought Power Dating was a good idea.

“Five minutes is all it takes to know that you want to get into a relationship,” Reiman said. “That's how people fall in love.”

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