Almost a year ago, when Gordon Brown, the chancellor, forecast that
the British economy would grow by between 1 and 1.5 per cent in 1999, he
was roundly mocked for his optimism. It’s hard to remember now that 1999
began with forecasts of recession, that the millennium bug would destroy
the economy at the year’s end - if the world hadn’t come to an end in
the summer as predicted by Nostradamus. But the downturn never hit, the
eclipse came and went behind a cloud and the industry is busy roistering
as is usual at this time of year.
So what better time for it to present a more optimistic face? The threat
from management consultancies seems to have been averted (if it ever
existed), the dotcom revolution is, so far, of more obvious financial
benefit to advertising groups than any of its new paper millionaires;
there is more evidence on the efficacy of advertising than ever before.
And yet the tone emanating from the British advertising industry’s heavy
hitters is still one of lack of confidence.
I suppose this is because there is a sense of the industry operating in
a world in which the old ways are no longer valid. Procter & Gamble, the
world’s biggest advertiser, is phasing out the commission system; the
total communications approach will require further changes in the way
agencies structure themselves to produce creative work and in what they
do for their clients; the advertising holding companies are likely to
consolidate still further. Everything is unpredictable and scary.
Some, however, find it all so exciting that they almost wish they were
going round again. They would probably do things differently (who was it
that said ’If life had a second edition, how would I correct the
proofs?’) but they relish the sense of being well over the threshold of
a world dominated by electronic media. An end of year thought, then,
borrowed from Petrarch, for all readers: ’Many have not become what they
might have because they believed they were what people mistakenly said
they were.’ Advertising has its place reserved in the new digital
The difference is that, more than ever, it has to fight for its right to
Though the recession never came, one piece of Christmas tradition
remains unchanged. Ruthless agency bosses who have spent the whole year
conspiring to do the dirty on all and sundry suddenly come over all
sentimental when there are Christmas cards to be sent. They may have
ruined lives and careers, but inside the envelope all is comfort and
joy, celestial choirs, peace and love, public relations treacle. I
sometimes wonder whether the people who sign these cards ever bother to
read them or wonder to whom they are being sent. Then again, we’d all
hate not to get any, wouldn’t we?
Have your say at www.campaignlive.com on channel 4.