Game is over for this year

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The end is not near. It seems a good bet U.S. ad spending will fall this year (for the first time since recession year 1991). So the slump drags on, and recovery is only a theory. There will be no magical turnaround with the flip of the calendar to January 2002. But this isn't all bad.

Even if ad spending slips slightly, it's important to remember that 2001 still will be the second-biggest advertising year in U.S. history after last year's irrational exuberance. If Madison Ave. could just forget the anomaly of 2000, the industry would be celebrating.

There is much to be said for the pruning-out process. It is painful for individuals who lose their jobs; it's unfortunate for those who lose their fortunes. But in the end, the down cycle of the business cycle is healthy for the long-term vitality of advertising, media and the economy.

The downturn brought a shakeout among media, agencies and marketers. Those still standing when markets turn up will be in better shape to proceed after weaker players have cleared out. Great brands will prevail.

The best news out there: Advertisers are regaining clout lost in what had become a distorted marketplace, where the balance of power seemed to have shifted to media. TV ad time cost too much last year. So now the price goes down. When the price is right and the time is right, advertisers will see value and again invest their money. And the ad business will resume growing.

To be sure, this is a hard market to call. The Economist has recession on its cover; yet consumer confidence is rising. White-collar layoffs are omnipresent; yet Lexus sales were up 20% last month.

When's the beginning of advertising's turnabout? Sometime in 2002 seems probable.

Things could be worse. Things will be better. Business will come back: The absolute necessity of marketing will not go away.

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