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
"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
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
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
And it wasn't just the internet. Some advertising gurus went so far as
to suggest that advertising could decouple itself from the general
In this self-deluded nirvana, they reasoned, economic recessions would
come and go but the advertising sector would float upwards for ever. We
So forget the forecasts and instead think Doris Day and John Maynard
Keynes. "Whatever will be, will be," Doris warbled, and she was
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
- Claire Beale is on maternity leave.