PERSPECTIVE: I’ve witnessed the future: it’s littered with futurologists

I’ve been sceptical about professional business clairvoyants since I watched the futurologist, Watts Wacker, dressed appropriately enough as a cowboy, expound his views on ’the 500-year plan’ to a captive audience of marketers on board the Oriana.

I’ve been sceptical about professional business clairvoyants since

I watched the futurologist, Watts Wacker, dressed appropriately enough

as a cowboy, expound his views on ’the 500-year plan’ to a captive

audience of marketers on board the Oriana.



While the average tenure of most marketing directors is 18 months, the

first word that comes to mind to describe the appropriateness of the

500-year plan is not suitable for use in a respectable trade magazine,

so I will restrict myself to one that starts with the same letter -

baloney. However, I rather hoped that the feature we commissioned for

this week’s issue (’A Load of Old Crystal Balls’, p22) would dispel

those doubts and explain the crucial difference between Mystic Meg and

Faith Popcorn.



Sadly this was not to be. I still can’t escape the fact that there are

few ad campaigns that last even ten years. And when they do, they tend

to evolve as the reality of the world becomes clearer and more

certain.



As one eminent agency boss put it to me last week: ’Our planning

horizons tend to be a little closer than most futurologists like to work

with, say a week or two!’



Even if this slightly irritating fact weren’t true, there are two

further reasons why industry-leading agencies don’t need futurologists.

First, they don’t have a great record of getting it right: the paperless

office, for example, has been forecast forever. Now look around your

office - see what I mean? Second, there are plenty of reputable

companies around which offer fascinating insights into where the world

is going - the Henley Centre, for one - without trying to make a science

of the process. They use proper words like scenario planning or trend

analysis.



Reading the contributions to our feature from four agency futurologists

(one of whom, rather tellingly, eschews the label) I find most of their

utterances general enough that they can be argued to be right no matter

what happens in the future. To be fair to them, they’re useful in one

respect: providing provocative material for brainstormings. By setting

up extreme positions they stimulate people to raise their sights

slightly, and get them to think more adventurously about the plans they

are putting together.



Marketing directors like their agencies to have access to these educated

guessers - especially when times are good and they can be indulged.

Management consultants, however, are also educated guessers, and I’ll

bet they are every marketing director’s preferred futurologist in times

of recession or strife.



My conclusion? Futurology’s probably not a bad new-business wheeze.

Especially if you haven’t got a reel.



Have your say in CampaignLive’s Forum on channel 4 at

www.campaignlive.com.



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