Here at the ANA, Very Smart People are Ignoring the Economy

We’re packed here in an Orlando hotel ballroom, shoulder to shoulder, for the first morning of talks at the Assoc. National Advertisers “Masters of Marketing” conference. There’s 1200 people in all – the highest attendance ever. There’s also a big, big elephant in the room. So far none of these marketing honchos has said what he plans to do about the fact that outside of this very nice Ritz-Carlton, the American economy is tanking and nobody wants to buy anything.

We’ve heard from Jim Stengel, the departing Procter & Gamble CMO, who extended platitudes about “people first” and “marketing with purpose.” We’ve also heard from Mike Mendenhall, head of marketing at HP, who spoke about reaching out to consumers online (I’ll be interviewing him later on), from Andrew Robertson, the head of ad agency BBDO, who talked about consumers’ personal “rituals,” and from Mark Addicks, the CMO of General Mills, who’s speaking as I type right now about understanding his “brand champions.” The people in the room seem to be enjoying it, and all the talks have been interesting in their own right.

But that big elephant ain’t happy. Beyond quips at the opening night dinner (“How many people made money in the stock market last week?” asked ANA President Bob Liodice) and generic cocktail party 401k grimacing, nobody’s talking about the economy and the stark challenges marketers will face because of it. When they get back to the office on Monday, they’ll have divine what’s going to happen in the next 12 months, how they’re going win business from extremely cash-strapped Americans, and whether their CEO will slash their budget while they try. I’d like to hear about that.

This afternoon we’re supposed to hear from Bank of America’s Chief Marketing Officer, Anne Finucane. It will be very interesting to hear both what she says — and what she doesn’t say. I’ll keep you posted.

My colleague Jon Fine is also here and blogging. Check out his thoughts over at Fine on Media.