The ANA’s Masters of Marketing Conference (just concluded Saturday in Orlando, Florida) delivered four days chocked full of advertisers in front of other advertisers advertising their advertising.

Doesn’t that sound like an accident waiting to happen?

The annual event brings together folks who pay for and profit from advertising — brands, agencies, and media — so that they can tell one another how smart they are. There’s no transparent selection process, and therefore no credible criteria for who gets to make presentations, let alone what constitutes a presentation worth making. A quick look at the agenda tells me that the “masters” who spoke were chosen based on 1) The hugeness of their budgets (mostly), and 2) Their resulting ability to literally buy their way into laundry lists of activities.

The buzzwords were flying in the session descriptions, promising revelations about brand curation, crowd sourcing, now marketing, and the unfortunately labeled start a movement…considering the event’s entertainment included dragging the guitarist for Fleetwood Mac out of his retirement home, and lots of rigorous golf outings.

From what I’ve read about what followed, established laws of causality and math were routinely abused or ignored as various “case histories” presumed that activities connected by nothing more than dotted lines on PowerPoint slides actually had anything to do with one another…or that metrics of likability or other social nonsense added up to anything more than a sales pitch. Nothing discussed was replicable, in that every success story — and you must realize that every marketing activity is a success is you spend enough money on it — is both uniquely suited to the specific circumstances of its purpose and execution, and it’s impossible to copy it because nobody tells anybody else what things really cost or truly produced.

It was a big speed-dating party at which everyone congratulated themselves for being visionaries, while the things they presume to understand continued to evolve or otherwise spin out of their sight and control.

Imagine an alternate reality in which the self-anointed leaders of the advertising world got together to learn about and ponder the real issues and opportunities facing our industry. You might see sessions such as:

When Culture Jamming Comes to Breakfast Cereal: How the media techniques of social activism could change the marketplace for brands overall.

Talking About Brands, Not With Them: What if the future of social isn’t Facebook, Twitter, and the other glorified distribution channels, but rather true P2P networking?

The Loss of Authority: Why doubts over political polls, science, even government-issued statistics could mean a harsher and more fickle marketplace for branded content.

Mobile as Outsourced Branding: Could the ability to access infinitely real and useful info via mobile info spell disaster for brand expectations for awareness and intent?

Wiki And Your Positioning: How radical transparency will dictate what and how you talk about your brand, and why that might not be such a bad thing.

Science And Your Consumers: Our understanding of neurology and behavior is creating amazing new ways for you to engage with your customers.

Do Over: 2011’s biggest, most costly and embarrassing flops, and what their sponsors learned from them.

Speakers would be invited from a variety of disparate fields, even from some that are in conflict with the efforts of brand marketers. The selection process would have objective criteria for who, what, and why presentations were chosen, and it would be shared with the attendees and outside world. Conclusions from the sessions would go far beyond the feel-good blather of trade media coverage and posit real, substantive questions that could involve the advertising industry post-event. There’d be news and truth and utility at this alternate-world gig.

Instead, lots of high-powered execs traded business cards in anticipation of their next job or account switch while enduring pretty presentations about funny digital campaigns.

Titanic, meet iceberg.

Image via flickr

Original Post: http://baskinbrand.com/?p=1045