A chatty, instructive update on the ad game, once a glamour business but now fallen on increasingly harder times. The prolific Mayer (The Greatest-Ever Bank Robbery, Markets, The Money Bazaars, etc.) is an agreeable and savvy tour guide who knows the territory. Over 30 years ago, during advertising's heyday, he wrote a breezy best-seller entitled Madison Avenue, U.S.A. This time around, his publisher was subsidized (by the American Association of Advertising Agencies); the sponsor probably got more than it bargained for. At any rate, Mayer casts a decidedly cold eye on an industry he concludes is losing its edge in the run for corporate America's marketing money. All told, he reports, US enterprises invest upwards of $120 billion annually to promote and sell their goods or services; about one-third of this vast sum is earmarked for advertising. Mayer nonetheless discerns problems in the midst of putative plenty. Among other difficulties, he notes that too many suppliers of consumer products are more intent on price discounting than in building strong brand franchises through appealing ads. By no coincidence, the author points out, agencies are being run by MBAs at least as interested in organizing full-service shops as in creating great advertising. In the meantime, media outlets in general and TV in particular have fragmented, limiting the effectiveness of mass-market campaigns. As one unfortunate consequence of ongoing change, Mayer determines, the best and brightest university grads now bypass Madison Avenue when making career choices. Whether advertising can overcome its currently servile position vis-Ö-vis clients and regain a central role in merchandising is a very open question in Mayer's mind. Though far from sanguine about the industry's prospects, however, he's vastly entertaining in his wide-angle analysis of its once and future woes.