World: Analysis - New York's Advertising Week puts US adland in the spotlight

Can Advertising Week do for ads what Fashion Week did for clothes?

Sponsors hope that New York's Advertising Week - five days of exhibitions, panels, seminars, conferences and a parade of walking ad icons such as Tony the Tiger and Mr Peanut - will do for advertising what the retail industry's Fashion Week, upon which it was modelled, does for haute couture.

Running from 20 to 24 September, the event is designed to appeal both to industry insiders and the general public, with more than 25 ad associations and agencies either scheduling events or hosting internal conferences during the week. Conceived by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, it marks the largest-ever gathering of America's most influential image-makers. Highlights include Kellogg Leadership Breakfasts, a film festival, public advertising exhibits in Grand Central Station, performances by some of Broadway's biggest stars and panels featuring advertising legends such as Phil Dusenberry and Donny Deutsch. It will cover subjects such as branded entertainment and humour in advertising.

The event kicks off with a procession of ad icons from Times Square, up Madison Avenue. Viewers can vote for both their favourite icon and their favourite slogan via a website. "If the ad industry were a brand, there would be a reality gap between what it actually does and how it's perceived," the AAAA's chairman and the chief executive and chief creative officer of Euro RSCG Partners, Ron Berger, the man largely responsible for getting the festival off the ground, says. "The advertising industry is the third-largest industry in New York - that's a story people need to know."

The aim, Paula Veale, the executive vice-president for corporate communications at the Ad Council, says, is simply to raise awareness. "The general public does not know how the industry donates its time and talent," she says.

"Our exhibition, a retrospective of Partnership for a Drug-Free America ads, is a way of getting the word out about what the Ad Council does."

According to Julie Thompson, a senior vice-president and director of corporate communications at Leo Burnett, which is running two events - a presentation about advertising to women and an exhibition of legendary brands: "In the US, the public equates the ad industry to used-car salesmen, and this industry is suffering from a lack of respect and a bad reputation. What we're trying to do is so important for the industry - which does not have a platform for its wares, unlike the fashion industry.

"It's about reminding people of the impact advertising has on the economy," she continues. "As an industry, we have to do everything we can to improve our image and raise the stature of advertising as a profession. We feel a responsibility as an agency to take part in helping to promote advertising. When we send our recruiters out to schools, it's important these kids feel good about what we do."

But the event is not without controversy. Associations such as The One Club, The Art Directors' Club and The Andys, which all run not-for-profit awards shows, asked the organisers to consider dropping the launch of its proposed money-making awards show, and then withdrew their support and participation of Advertising Week in protest when it did not.

"The industry already has too many awards shows," Mary Warlick, the executive director of The One Show, says. "In a time of economic recession, you're asking agencies to shell out fees for a money-making enterprise that will take away from not-for-profits such as ourselves."

The awards show was cancelled anyway, owing to lack of entries and the high entry fees. "In the end, the industry voted," Berger says. "I was never a big fan of the idea, but the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which hosts the Emmys, approached us with the idea and we thought: 'Let's give it a shot.' It's the only negative press we've had."

Some people take issue with other aspects of the event. "The original idea of having an Advertising Week was a good one, because advertising is big business in New York," Warlick says. "But the problem is, by celebrating hokey ad icons, they're living back in the 50s and they're not really celebrating smart creativity. They're trying to raise the profile of advertising and attract new people, but these icons will put people off."

But not everyone agrees, including, not surprisingly, Leo Burnett, the creator and steward of many such icons. "It's not about featuring old ad icons," Thompson says. "It's about showing how they've become a part of our everyday lives." Berger adds: "The icons are fun and are meant to make people smile and think about advertising. Like any new thing, some people are taking a 'wait and see' attitude about it. Our goal is to be the largest celebration of advertising. This is the one time when agencies and clients can come together and truly support the industry."

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