Opinion: The future looks tougher than Sorrell's prediction

No-one wants to be branded the spectre at advertising's feast. But it is as well to sound a few notes of caution to keep the bullish predictions of the AAR's Martin Jones and WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell in perspective.

Both were seeing the future with a rosy hue last week. Jones cited the sharp rise in agency pitches during the first half of this year as evidence of growing personal and corporate confidence among clients and a widespread belief that the economic recovery would be sustained. And WPP would seem to agree - not only has it posted a whopping 32 per cent rise in pre-tax profits for the first half of 2005, but Sorrell, whose prophesies are respected by the business community, suggests its overall performance for the year should at least match, or even surpass, last year's showing.

Everyone in adland will be praying that the two are right. Nevertheless, it's hard to get away from the nagging feeling that the going will be tougher than ever and the global economy is more fragile than some claim.

With the housing market static and interest rates and tax rises causing concern, the UK's consumers are no longer willing to shop until they drop, instead spending less on their credit cards and paying off their monthly bills more quickly.

Bank of England figures show the amount owed on credit cards grew by just £312 million in July, the lowest increase since June 2001. Total spending dropped to £10.9 billion, the smallest figure since February last year. The credit card group APACS bears out what's happening, with research showing spending in the 12 months to July rose by 5 per cent to £123 billion, the slowest increase in ten years.

The knock-on effect in the high street is all too apparent. Almost half of Britain's retailers suffered a drop in sales volumes in July, according to a CBI survey. Overall, retailers have not seen an increase in annual sales since the end of 2004. Moreover, the threat of a global oil crisis remains ever-present. Some 20 oil rigs were damaged by Hurricane Katrina, while an oil strike in Nigeria is threatened. These things could easily blow the economic recovery off course. And it's all to easy to guess what would happen to commercial confidence should terrorists attack the UK again. Hope for the best but fear the worst seems to be the best advice.

Can DDB find different icons for Egypt?

Well done to DDB for landing the Egyptian Tourist Board's £28 million global account. Insiders say the appointment reflects a higher level of marketing professionalism at the ETB. Let's hope it leads to some refreshing new ads. We all know what camels, the Sphinx and the pyramids look like.

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