MEDIA PERSPECTIVE: Que sera sera is a saner response to forecast madness

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 per cent 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 per cent.



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 for ever. 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).



- Claire Beale is on maternity leave.



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