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After the storm

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As I set out to write this column more than a week ago, I planned to focus on a series of positive signs as marketers look ahead to 2013. Indeed, there were many from which to choose. First of all, barring a rerun of 2000, we should know this week who will be working in the Oval Office for the next four years. Although close to half the nation's voters will likely be disappointed with the final result, it will be good to finally have the decks and airwaves clear. I say this as one who's fortunate to be based in Chicago, where the barrage of negative advertising has largely been limited to congressional and state legislative races, and has only reached high decibels in the past few weeks. No doubt my colleagues in Ohio and Florida became numb to the unrelenting onslaught of presidential campaign ads and appearances months ago. As we reported in September, several major b-to-b marketers, including Emerson Electric Co. and Siemens Corp., scaled back their TV advertising heading into the final months of the year rather than try to be heard above the political din. With the political clutter gone, advertisers should find television a much more open and less costly medium in the months ahead. In the digital space, things have certainly been looking up. Last month, the Interactive Advertising Bureau reported that Internet ad revenue hit $17 billion in the first half, up 14% from the year-earlier period. In the hot mobile advertising space, ad spending rose 95%, to $1.2 billion. Just last Thursday, the Conference Board reported that its Consumer Confidence Index reading for October was the highest since February 2008. It attributed the latest increase in what's considered a key indicator of the state of the economy to a brighter outlook on the jobs front. The Conference Board delayed the much-anticipated release of the report for two days because of the arrival of Hurricane Sandy. The storm, which devastated a wide swath of the Atlantic Seaboard, has also dampened expectations at least for the short term. Some analysts have already weighed in on the storm's fallout on marketers and media. Media research company Pivotal Research Group last week downgraded its U.S. ad forecast for this year to zero growth; it had earlier predicted 1.4% growth. “The first signs of a stormy second half of the year for advertising had become clear once the agency holding companies reported, and then Superstorm Sandy arrived, making us certain that 2012 will prove to be a year without growth for the U.S. advertising economy,” wrote Brian Wieser, senior research analyst at Pivotal Research Group. Wieser pegged the storm's cost to media companies at about $500 million in lost revenue. The long-term effects of the storm are more difficult to predict, as the rebuilding in its aftermath could provide a lift to the sluggish economy. In the meantime, our thoughts are with those who bore the brunt of the storm. John Obrecht is editor of BtoB and Media Business. He can be reached at jobrecht@crain.com.
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