Not much value in predictions, as even the great Ogilvy admitted

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As we venture deeper into the new millennium, it's important to reflect on the century just past and the challenges ahead for marketing and media professionals.

Uh, no it's not.

The presence of all those zeroes in your Palm Pilot's datebook won't bring about watershed changes in this business any more than a reduction in Monica Lewinsky's waistline will result in a fattening of Jenny Craig's purse.

And predictions are truly worthless, a truism hammered home recently while I was flipping through "Ogilvy on Advertising," published in 1983.

David Ogilvy's impact on advertising and consumer culture was undeniably deep. He came in at No. 4 in our ranking last year of the top 100 ad people, behind only Bill Bernbach, Marion Harper Jr. and Leo Burnett. When he died in July, we mourned the passing of the industry's "last giant."

But even this giant was unable to forecast the future with much accuracy. The last chapter of his 1983 book is titled, "I predict 13 changes." However, Ogilvy took pains to distance himself from the list. "I have never been a futurist," he wrote. "However, my publisher insists that I take a shot at predicting the changes that you, gentle reader, will see in the advertising business."

He takes 13 shots, actually. Most miss, some by such a distance that you can't help but wince. At least one scores a direct hit (no, he didn't predict the craze), while others are more vague and subjective, and thus harder to judge. A sampling:

The quality of research will improve, and this will generate a bigger corpus of knowledge as to what works and what doesn't. Creative people will learn to exploit this knowledge, thereby improving their strike rate at the cash register.

This one gets a mixed grade. Obviously, there have been advances in research techniques. But there remains much criticism about the quality and reliability of research, and much debate about the widespread use of offbeat creative totally untouched by consumer insight.

There will be a renaissance in print advertising.

Sadly untrue. A depressingly high number of today's print ads are frame grabs from TV spots.

Advertising will contain more information and less hot air.


Billboards will be abolished.

The biggest miss, this prediction was colored by Ogilvy's own distaste for the medium. Billboards have never been more popular. The landscape has never been uglier.

The clutter of commercials on television and radio will be brought under control.

Wrong again. The airwaves are more congested, and advertisers have responded by cluttering up every other surface they can find.

Candidates for political office will stop using dishonest advertising.

They'll also reform campaign finance and avoid hyperbole in stump speeches.

Several foreign agencies will open offices in the United States, and will prosper.

Yeah, and Dentsu of Japan will be the big winner in a merger between all-Americans Burnett and MacManus. Oh, wait . . .

Multinational manufacturers will increase their market shares all over the non-Communist world, and will market more of their brands internationally. The advertising campaigns for these brands will emanate from the headquarters of multinational agencies, but will be adapted to respect differences in local culture.

Wow. Good one! Strong enough, maybe, to offset the billboard blunder.

The point here is not to ridicule David Ogilvy, who clearly didn't want to tack on this chapter of the book in the first place. But if he couldn't foresee the future, the rest of us can't, either. Unless anyone out there accurately predicted that a former White House intern who had sex with the president would wind up as spokeswoman for anything other than a cigar company.

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