PERSPECTIVE: Industry still suffers effect of attack on US after a troubled year

There has really only been one story this week - reflections on the events of a year ago and their impact on lives, attitudes, politics and, trite as it may seem in the tragic circumstances, whatever business you happen to be in.

The business of advertising was affected more than many immediately after the attacks of 11 September. The knee-jerk block on adspend was, for most companies, a heartfelt mark of respect but, 12 months on from then and for almost all advertisers, it superficially appears to be business as usual (in a recession).

But advertisers have chosen to mark their respect again this week by suspending activity at key times and the tributes are proving a stark reminder that the underlying effects of the tragedy linger on. The airline and tourist industries may never fully recover, while media owners are still struggling with the impact on their revenue figures. An estimated £319 million was lost in ad revenue in the immediate months following the attacks - although to their lasting credit many media have responded by producing the sensitive, quality journalism underplayed in recent years.

And according to some of the global holding companies that have cited 11 September as a contributory factor in depressed profits, last year's attacks have led many advertisers to fundamentally examine their marketing activity and question its value - a process already underway as recession set in last year. Sir Martin Sorrell has said: "Advertisers and marketers, after cutting spending after 11 September and finding that life did not end, may have started to question more fundamentally the value of such expenditure."

The real impact on marketing runs deep. There has been a subtle but distinct shift in consumer attitudes which marketers have also been keen to reflect. Apple-pie America has not had the resurgence some predicted, but there has been a fresh focus on so-called family values and a certain nostalgia and patriotic "keep America rolling" spirit has seeped into the marketing efforts of some of the globe's biggest (American) brands.

And while superficially consumers have pretty much returned to a day-to-day normality, fresh warnings of possible attacks are again weighing down economic and individual confidence and urging marketing caution.

In this climate, Maurice Levy had no qualms about pointing out this week that war with Iraq would compound the situation. Levy, poised to ratify his takeover of Bcom3 later this month, warned on Tuesday that a war in 2003 could spark a new oil shock, wipe a couple of percentage points off global GDP and scupper a recovery next year. To talk of war and advertising in the same breath is at once insensitive and another reminder of the fact that now it is a truly global business, advertising is more than ever at the mercy of global events.

Caroline Marshall is on holiday.


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