Book of Tens: Biggest Stories of the Decade

Published on .

DOT-COM BUST
We're not just closing the decade reeling from irrational and disastrous speculation, we also opened with it. Perhaps no one embodied the dot-com bust better than Pets.com, which launched in August 1998. During this period, characterized by free spending and paper wealth, Pets.com bought an expensive Super Bowl ad and turned its mascot into a cultural icon. Only problem? It lost money on nearly every sale, and in less than a year it went from IPO to bankruptcy. Of course, the victims of the bust didn't just include starry-eyed internet entrepreneurs but also agencies who promised advertising services in exchange for soon-worthless company stock and media companies that over-invested in the burgeoning industry. Maybe, a decade later, we'll finally learn our lessons: that eyeballs and buzz don't equal revenue, and that the internet is neither a channel meant to supplant all others or just an ad medium.

RISE OF GOOGLE
Depending on what data you look at, Google is either the world's most powerful brand, the best place to work or the most visited site on the internet. Launched in September 1998 in a Silicon Valley garage by a pair of Stanford dropouts, it was just getting started when the rest of the dot-com world nosedived. It started selling ads in 2000, went public with an implied market valuation of $23 billion in August 2004, and today boasts a market cap of $187 billion. The company makes almost all of its money on ads in a fantastically profitable, automated model and has transformed consumer internet behavior from seeking destinations to seeking answers. Google has also never lacked for ambitious philosophical proclamations -- and today its official mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" has expanded beyond webpages to include books, music and video.

THE BROWNING OF MAIN STREET
In Los Angeles, non-Hispanic whites have dwindled to 29% of the population. About 40% of L.A. residents are foreign-born, more than half speak a language at home that isn't English, and two-thirds of all school children are Latino. Urban areas have high concentrations of ethnic minorities, but one of the demographic shifts of the past decade, especially among Hispanics, has been the move to counties that once had few Latinos. The growth of minorities -- in sheer numbers, in purchasing power and as influencers of urban trends -- has been a wake-up call for marketers. Procter & Gamble, AT&T and Verizon Communications each spend more than $100 million a year in Hispanic media, and McDonald's Corp. does 40% of its business with Hispanic, black and Asian-American consumers. The year 2050 is forecast to be the tipping point when the non-Hispanic white population becomes a minority group.

PERILS FOR PRINT
Millions continue to happily buy the print editions of newspapers and magazines. Most local newspapers continue to make money, an under-reported fact in media-business reporting. Print will never die. But the rise of digital media this decade, among both consumers and the advertisers that chase them, has steadily and undeniably eroded both the importance and profits of print. The intensifying struggle for ad pages pushed 18 notable magazines out of business in 2009 alone, including no less an admired institution than Gourmet. Newspapers, which once enjoyed local monopolies and profit margins above 20%, were hit harder still as Craigslist vacuumed up their classifieds. The Rocky Mountain News in Colorado closed; the Seattle Post-Intelligencer went all-digital; and to cap it all off, in December 2009, newspapers even lost their industry trade magazine, Editor & Publisher, which had published since 1901.

BEER BASHED
Anheuser-Busch entered the decade on a roll, but by the end, it wasn't even an independent company. Fueled by the world's most powerful sports-marketing machine and a creative touch that pierced pop culture, A-B spent the '90s running up the score on its competitors. But then consumer demand for variety fueled growth in wine and spirits, as well as in import and craft beer. Flagship Bud Light's once spectacular growth slowed to an incremental trickle. And A-B's stymied stock price and a weak U.S. dollar left A-B vulnerable to the unthinkable: a 2008 takeover by Belgium-based InBev. As if that wasn't enough, A-B's two domestic rivals, SAB Miller and Molson Coors, acknowledged the futility of competing against the giant alone and, in 2008, merged their U.S. operations to form a 30-share competitor with the media clout to outspend A-B in some key venues it had long dominated.

LAFLEY TAKES OVER AT P&G
The surprise departure of Durk Jager as CEO of Procter & Gamble and the ascension of A.G. Lafley in June 2000 changed the course of P&G, and to some extent the broader marketing world. Without this change, P&G almost certainly wouldn't have acquired Clairol. It might not have acquired Wella or Gillette either. It probably wouldn't have expanded as aggressively in developing markets and would have focused more on technological innovation and new brands than developed ones. Its prescription drug business would probably be bigger, not divested. As a net result, P&G likely wouldn't have faced as much exposure to beauty, grooming and batteries, which have slowed sharply. But it probably would be a smaller company, with less exposure to faster-growing developed markets. Almost certainly, Bob McDonald wouldn't be P&G's CEO today.

THE MARKETING OF OBAMA
They said it would never happen in our lifetime, but in 2008 America elected its first African-American president. Barack Hussein Obama beat supposed shoo-in Hillary Clinton in the primary, and war hero John McCain in the general. Sure, he had some help from an imploding economy and a hangover from eight years of George W. Bush, but make no mistake, Barack Obama's victory was won on the back of one of the most sophisticated marketing machines to ever hit the campaign trail. From word-of-mouth to cause marketing to social media to data-base management, Team Obama not only tapped into every new tool at a marketer's disposal, but it did so masterfully. That was topped off with some of the slickest branding since Ronald Reagan's campaign and massive outlays on TV. The team even pulled off another stunning victory when it took home the titanium and integrated Grand Prix from Cannes.

UNCLE SAM TAKES OVER
Detroit car sales screeched to a halt after 9/11, but General Motors flexed its marketing muscle and jump-started things with its "Keep America Rolling" blitz. Within several years, Ford Motor Cos.' North American operations were in the barrel. It slashed tens of thousands of jobs, closed plants and managed, in 2006, to find a heap of credit in a bet-the-farm bid. When the economy tanked in 2008, GM and Chrysler Group turned to Uncle Sam for loans to keep them from going under. The two had no choice but to succumb to the government's pre-packaged bankruptcy reorganizations earlier this year. A tragic result is the hundreds of layoffs of staffers in the Motor City who worked on Chrysler Group at PHD and BBDO, which is closing the office in late January when the contract expires, and at Campbell-Ewald, Chevrolet's longtime shop, which has trimmed from top to bottom since last year and is defending major projects.

THE WALMART-ROEHM SAGA
As marketing scandals go, it never got much juicier than Julie Roehm and Walmart. The Chrysler veteran came to Bentonville in 2005 to shake up the advertising and did, but not the way she or Walmart intended. Allegations -- never proven but heavily litigated -- that she took improper gratuities and had an affair with subordinate Sean Womack led to her firing in December 2006. They also led to the firing of Interpublic Group of Cos.' DraftFCB and Aegis Group's Carat, original selections in a $580 million review. After a redo review, Walmart ended up with IPG's Martin Agency, Publicis Groupe's MediaVest and a widely praised back-to-basics "Save Money. Live Better" campaign just in time for the Great Recession. A series of lawsuits and countersuits ended in an apparent draw, with no money changing hands. Ms. Roehm was left with a consulting business, a series of board seats and a house in northwest Arkansas.

THE GREAT RECESSION
There was nothing perfect or even remotely good about this perfect storm: The housing bubble burst; complex financial instruments that should never have existed in the first place collapsed like houses of cards; the U.S. mortgage business went into crisis; and just about every market you care to mention contracted rapidly as the credit and liquidity crunches tightened their grips on business. In fact the economy had been faltering since December 2007, but it was September 2008 when it escalated into a crisis and 2009 when we all felt the pain -- a pain that was especially acute in the marketing and media businesses that had already been suffering their own technologically-driven upheavals. The industry cut more than 180,000 jobs during this recession. Finally, in the last month or two, a few shops have started hiring again, and everyone is praying that 2010 doesn't catch whatever it was 2009 had.


In this article:
Most Popular