Imagine stepping into a time tunnel and emerging on to a suburban
street in the not-too-distant future. It’s a muggy summer evening in the
company-owned town but the executive returning to his subsidised home is
spared any sweaty discomfort by his air-conditioned suit.
Skipping over the robot mower, he opens the front door and heads for the
kitchen. He could kill for an ice-cold Bud. Fortunately, the ’smart’
fridge has already recognised that beer supplies were running low and
alerted the home delivery service to restock.
While he awaits his wife, out jogging with her rented guard dog, he lets
the stress ebb away in front of the ’virtual’ acquarium occupying an
entire lounge wall. Tonight they’ll be having another go at starting a
family by snuggling up to study the latest mail order catalogue
detailing egg and sperm donors.
Is this the brave new world where the advent of cyber sex will allow you
to have multiple orgasms without bothering with the foreplay, or the
ultimate manifestation of the Orwellian nightmare?
Maybe both. Which is why consumers are ambivalent about the future,
fearful of what it might hold and even yearning for the comforting
reassurance of yester-year. If there’s one certain thing about the
future, Marian Salzman says, it’s that people are retreating into the
past - ’because they know what happened next’ - and woe betide any
marketer that fails to acknowledge this contradiction.
Salzman, director of brand futures at Young & Rubicam in New York, is
advertising futurology’s most high-profile advocate. Whether it be on
the Oprah Winfrey Show or through the pages of Time Out, the Wall Street
Journal and the Independent, this veritable talk machine has turned into
a hot and controversial subject during the millennium run-up.
Not least because the speed of technological change and a new generation
of ad-literate consumers is forcing more advertisers to think well
beyond short-term competitive advantage.
Salzman’s collected thoughts on smart fridges, virtual fish tanks and
temperature-controlled clothes - even on video conferencing replacing
conventional school lessons - have just been published in the UK in a
book co-authored with Ira Matathia, a former senior executive at Chiat
Whether any of their predictions are worth taking seriously or are the
products of hyperactive imaginations is an open question. Agency
planning directors, though, are generally unimpressed with what they
regard as a bunch of flaky soothsayers. Many believe they have lost
touch with reality and that giving something so abstract and imprecise
an ’ology’ endows it with a scientific status it doesn’t deserve.
The future, they argue, simply isn’t predictable. Nor does it have to be
complicated. ’There’s only ever going to be 24 hours in a day,’ Joe
Staton, the futures director of Ammirati Puris Lintas Worldwide, points
out. ’People will still get up, eat and go to bed. Predicting what
they’ll do isn’t rocket science.’
Keith Lucas, a senior brand strategist at Ogilvy & Mather, has
’People get wowed by this kind of stargazing but although it produces
all sorts of fascinating concepts, I suspect that much of it is of
questionable strategic use.’
Max Burt, DMB&B’s planning director, insists that ’understanding the
general trends is what’s important’, while Clare Rossi, Grey’s chief
planning officer, cautions that futurology will only ever be as good as
the calibre of the experts whose knowledge it taps.
It’s certainly true that the wealth of material thrown up by futurology
is worthless unless it enables marketers to shape the future to the
advantage of their brands. It has already led to some expensive
mistakes. A UK high-street fashion retailer bought pounds 250,000 worth
of research by the doyenne of futurology, Faith Popcorn, only to realise
several months later that it hadn’t the faintest idea what to do with
Bad mouthing of futurologists within planning departments is seen as
sour grapes by its exponents. Planners, they argue, resent being usurped
as clients turn to growing numbers of specialist brand strategists for
independent advice. Not surprisingly, agency futurologists walk a
political tightrope. ’I never attempt to translate my findings into an
advertising idea,’ Salzman explains. ’That’s when I hand over to a
planner. Agencies are still byzantine when it comes to cross-over
Given such scepticism, it’s doubtful that futurologists will ever be
able to assert with confidence - as a gullible early visitor to
communist Russia once did - that they have seen the future and it
Next: The Flow of the Future, by Marian Salzman and Ira Matathia, is
published by HarperCollins, priced pounds 14.99
MIKE WILLIS BBH FUTURES
Willis refuses to be labelled a futurologist. He’s a brand strategist
whose priority is to advise advertisers not what the future holds for
them but how they can create their own.
He says the biggest problem confronting advertisers and consumers alike
in the coming years will be the management of time. The growing numbers
of ’cash rich, time poor’ consumers will have to be accommodated. There
are simply too many choices and people will need lots of help in making
the right ones.
Financial services companies will be in the forefront of this movement,
harnessing internet technology to provide the personal advice that
consumers will be seeking.
The growth of the global telecommunications industry, together with a
new generation of mobile phones, will allow advertising to take a more
intrusive course, with consumers being offered free call time if they
agree to listen to selected advertising messages. However, nobody has
yet cracked the problem of overcoming strong consumer resistance to
taking part in such dialogues.
Above-the-line advertising will still have an important role to play
because brands will still want to build their reputations in attractive
and compelling ways.
The big idea will always be necessary to cut through the clutter and
grab people’s attention.
MARIAN SALZMAN YOUNG & RUBICAM, NEW YORK
A failing education system and growing interest in home schooling by
middle-class parents will widen the chasm between the ’haves’ and
’have-nots’. The mass market will become exclusively downmarket as the
disadvantaged become more isolated from the mainstream. They will not
travel far from their homes and a new generation of corner shops will
emerge to serve them.
As cradle-to-grave state welfare declines along with workers’ corporate
loyalty, people will acknowledge that their future well-being is in
their own hands. They will expect financial services to be advertised in
the most straightforward way.
This will be coupled with a demand for corporate morality. Consumers
will expect advertisers to be honest about themselves and will not buy
from those judged not to match their moral standards.
Further headaches for advertisers will result from increasing consumer
concern about the way high-tech communications systems infiltrate their
lives. People will become more sceptical about what they see and
That goes for advertising messages too.
In business, size will no longer be a pre-requisite for success. Small
but well-capitalised agencies like Bartle Bogle Hegarty, St Luke’s and
Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe in the UK will set a style that the rest of
industry will follow.
ALAN CAUSEY AMMIRATI PURIS LINTAS, NEW YORK
A new generation gap will open up in 2005 when millions of children born
in 1990 turn 15. Its members will challenge the world in a way that
their so-called Generation X parents never did. Those twentysomethings
have tried to avoid the work-obsessed lifestyles of the post-war Baby
Boomers and are already trying to protect their offspring from the evils
of alcohol, tobacco, rap music lyrics and the internet.
The generation that emerges post-2005 will eschew such protectiveness,
preferring to make its own mistakes. The internet will will give it a
global collective consciousness, enabling it to exchange ideas and
formulate plans within minutes. Its rebelliousness may result in the
death of youth mega-brands as tomorrow’s children demand products which
better reflect their national cultures.
As the separation between life and work disappears and stress is
alleviated, convenience will no longer be the overriding demand of
consumers. They will expect advertisers to move away from sponsorship of
entertainment and into areas that will ease their everyday lives.
That could mean financing child-care centres or providing car-parking
facilities in urban areas. Consumers will want to hear bullshit-free
messages and will reward advertisers who tell it like it is.
CLIVE COOPER, SIMON RATCLIFFE THE BRAND FUTURES CONSULTANCY, GREY
The backlash in the US against out-of-town superstores - which are seen
as charmless and without character - will spread to the UK. Mail order
will grow in popularity among time-pressed consumers and high streets
will regain their popularity with retailers as local authorities rigidly
enforce planning regulations to restrict the growth of out-of-town
The re-emergence of the high street will be popular with consumers whose
shared sense of community spirit rises as the millennium approaches. The
high street will become a symbol of the prevailing mood.
Differences of performance between rival products will become ever
As they do, consumers will look to patronise companies which promote
themselves as good environmentalists with high ethical standards and
caring attitudes towards their workforces.
Consumers will no longer have the time to make choices, whether among a
plethora of TV channels or the huge range of bread on supermarket
They will need help to make informed choices. The retailers and brands
which help consumers by editing those choices will be the most
Huge advances in drug technology will not only enable people to live
longer but fundamentally change the character of many brands.
Harley-Davidsons will be bought by men pushing 60 who have the money to
live out the fantasies of their youth.