Que sera sera is a saner response to forecast madness

campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 13 December 2001 11:05AM

I'm drowning. Drowning under an avalanche of advertising forecasts. Zenith says the worst is over, but European growth will still be negative in real terms next year. Its sister company Optimedia UK claims UK ad revenues will grow 2% next year, with a real pick-up in the third quarter. Just to add its twopennyworth, Media Planning Group says next year will see a negative outturn of 1%, writes Dominic Mills.

To which I have one response: so what? It's not that I question their integrity. But I do question their point. I've taken this view since I first became exposed to forecasting as a financial journalist. One of my annual tasks was to ring up the City's most pre-eminent economists and collect their long-term forecasts (by long-term I mean three years and more) for the G7 economies. One had the habit of changing his mind within 24 hours, which was deeply irritating, not to say suspicious. I rang him to point out the dubious nature of his game. "Ah," he replied. "The first one was this morning's long-term forecast and the second one was this afternoon's." Apart from lunch, what had happened in between? Nothing, except a change of mind.



It would be unfair to tar Zenith, Optimedia et al with the same brush -- yet there are those who take all this forecasting guff far too seriously. I've lost count of the number of conversations that go like this:



"Dominic, you know what the real problem is?" Like an idiot, I shake my head because I ought to know by now what's coming. "We're talking ourselves into a

recession," they say as they read the latest long-term forecasts. "It's a self-fulfilling prophecy."



Superficially, of course, it's a seductive argument. The confidence factor is hugely significant in any sphere of economic activity, none more so than advertising. But ask yourself this; if we can talk ourselves into recession, based on forecasts, as so many believe, surely we can we talk ourselves into an upturn? Bollocks we can.



If you think I'm wrong, cast your mind back. Remember all those internet ad revenue forecasts that were, it transpired, built on wishful thinking. And it wasn't just the internet. Some advertising gurus went so far as to suggest that advertising could decouple itself from the general economy. In this self-deluded nirvana, they reasoned, economic recessions would come and go but the advertising sector would float upwards forever. We wish.


So forget the forecasts and instead think Doris Day and John Maynard Keynes. "Whatever will be, will be," Doris warbled, and she was right. If that's not good enough for you, next time somebody spins you a yarn based on the latest long-term forecast, remember Keynes' immortal words: "In the long-term we're all dead." In the meantime, have a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year (and that's a wish, not a forecast).



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This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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