Covering international advertising congresses broadens your
experience in the most unexpected ways.
I’ll not forget one such gathering in a lawless and corrupt Manila where
visitors to the congress centre were greeted with a sign reminding them
to check in their guns at reception.
Nor the attempted political assassination only a few hundred yards from
my hotel in which a local councillor’s driver was gunned down by a
I’ve been scared shitless on the way to congress sessions in the back of
Cairo taxis whose drivers seem to be the inheritors of the kamikaze
spirit and determined to take you with them on their final mission.
At the other end the scale, I’ve pondered the consequences of
conspicuous consumption while stranded in Seoul where more than two
million Hondas, Daewoos and Hyundais ensure that the eight-lane highways
of South Korea’s capital are permanently gridlocked.
So what of London, the city that will host the International Advertising
Association’s world congress next month? True, the place has its pockets
of poverty, although nothing on the Manila scale.
London today has a palpable air of self-confidence on the back of a
booming economy. More workers than ever before pack the trains into
Probably no figure encapsulates this better than the latest addition to
the speaker’s list - Hans Snook, the chief executive of Orange,
Britain’s third-largest mobile phone firm.
As a winner of one of the licences for the third generation of mobile
phones, Orange is at the vanguard of the new consumerism that London
epitomises. From 2002, Orange and others will be offering a
mind-boggling range of services via the mobile. Fast internet access,
e-commerce, video clips, games, entertainment and advertising will all
be available at the touch of a button.
The pace of change is exciting and breathtaking.
Yet my mind goes back to those conference delegates running a gauntlet
of begging children - some no older than six - on their way to listen to
WPP’s chief executive, Martin Sorrell. Moreover, last year’s Seattle
riots are the manifestation of a widespread concern that global
corporations are growing more powerful than national governments.
That’s why I like the format of the IAA congress which recognises that
the new-media explosion, seismic social change and the trade imbalance
throw up conundrums about ethics, environmental and social
responsibility that marketers can’t duck.
Some harsh questions will need to be asked and answered at the IAA
congress. The only drawback - if that’s what you’d call it - is that
delegates won’t have had their minds concentrated by the sight of
cardboard shelters and open sewers on their way from the airport.