As those who toil on Madison Avenue are turning the pages of their
calendars (or poking their handheld organisers with those tiny sticks),
they're noticing the arrival of a week that usually brings big smiles
Not this week.
This past Monday was the Labour Day holiday, which traditionally marks
the end of summer, typically the slowest period for advertising in this
country (apart from the hyperbolic pitching for Hollywood's silly summer
After summer comes fall, the busiest season for advertisers and,
therefore, the most productive, and lucrative, for agencies. Fall means
back to work and back to school. (Some of a certain age can still sing a
jingle from radio commercials for a chain of discount clothing stores
that began: "School bells ring and children sing, it's back to Robert
Fall brings the start of the new primetime and syndicated TV seasons for
national networks and local stations. Fall marks the start of the new
automotive model year. Fall inaugurates the new season of football,
America's biggest and most popular sport.
And, perhaps most importantly, fall augurs the arrival of the hugely
important fourth quarter on the retail calendar, when shopping for
Christmas gifts swells sales volumes.
All that autumnal activity generates a sense of anticipation not unlike
that felt when you're very young and eagerly await the first day of
This time around, however, agencies are looking forward to fall with all
the enthusiasm that dental patients muster when told they require a
series of root canals. Rather than elated, they're, well,
The reason? As Bill Clinton's strategists reiterated during the 1992
presidential campaign, it's the economy, stupid. Nine years later, it's
the economy again, as the decline in consumer confidence levels, the
tumbling major stock market indexes and the uncertainty caused by retail
and automotive sales that continuously go up and down like yo-yos have
all combined to leach most of the joy from the upcoming fall season.
"Things get gloomier and gloomier," Hugh Johnson, the chief investment
officer at the First Albany Corporation, told the Reuters news
How happy can anyone be when the light at the end of the proverbial
tunnel, in the form of previous predictions of a turnaround arriving in
autumn, turns out to be an approaching freight train, in the form of
revised forecasts that the recovery will not come until mid-2002 at the
"We see no indications that the oft-mentioned 'fourth quarter
turnaround' will occur," says a prominent soothsayer, Jack Myers, chief
economist at Myers Reports in New York.
As a result, Myers has issued what he calls "probably the industry's
most bearish forecast", predicting a decline in ad spending not only for
this year (minus 4 per cent) but for next year as well (minus 1.7 per
cent) - and flat results for 2003.
Not until 2004, when spending will be stimulated by the summer Olympic
Games and the presidential election, does Myers foresee an increase in
ad spending. And that improvement is to bring growth of just 2.7 per
cent, to boot. Zenith Media has now weighed in with a similar forecast,
predicting little growth until at least 2004.
2004? 2004!?!?!??!?! That's a lifetime on the Madison Avenue calendar,
or handheld organiser.