Advertising Industry Focusing Efforts on All the Wrong Places

Here's Where the Attention Should Be Placed -- and Why

By Published on .

Bob Garfield
Bob Garfield
This month, all the world of advertising is focused on one place -- one event, one prolonged trophy hunt filled with glamour and drama and carousing and applause and whistling and global competition at the highest levels.

I refer, of course, to the World Cup. Who cares how many Lions the Dutch take home from Cannes, do they have a chance against Argentina or Brazil in South Africa?

Of course, if you ask me, either way it's misdirection. The marketing industry should be looking neither toward Cannes nor Johannesburg. It should be looking toward Athens -- and Lisbon, Madrid, Brussels, Copenhagen, Budapest and even London. That is where its immediate and intermediate future is being written.

The Greek credit crisis has, obviously, pushed the euro zone to the brink and forced a reluctant nation into hyper-austerity measures that threaten political stability in a place where stability is tenuous in the best of times. The 110 billion euro bailout has taken some of the immediate pressure off Prime Minister George Papandreou's government, but the retrenchment has scarcely begun. Molotov cocktails were hurled at Athens banks last month just in anticipation of the fiscal pain.

Tens of thousands of Portuguese hit the streets in Lisbon two weeks ago. Last week, Spanish civil servants -- about 13% of the workforce -- went on strike in protest of wage cuts. In Hungary, the country is in danger of busting the deficit ceiling established in its last bailout, and last week announced public-employee-wage cuts across the board.

Granted, this is southern and Eastern Europe we are speaking of, perennially, perpetually over-borrowing and under-producing. I mean, here's a quote last Tuesday from Papandreou, in announcing deep cuts in public spending: "The decisions we make will affect every single person in our country. And the effects of those decisions will stay with us for years, perhaps decades, to come."

Oh, wait. That wasn't Papandreou. That was David Cameron, prime minister of a little banana republic called the United Kingdom. Turns out, whether you are in the Balkans or The City, the safety net is being lowered. Folks, last week the Danes took to the streets -- the Danes! -- in protest of a three-year, $4.4 billion slice into the muscle and bone of public spending. Hey, if you can't sustain a welfare state in Denmark, where can you?

What this means -- and what it will mean soon enough in Latin America and Asia, as it has already happened in North America -- is that consumers will be called upon to pick up more and more costs of education, health care, vacation, retirement and so on. Which means an indefinite period -- Cameron's "decades" sounds right to me -- of less discretionary income available throughout the developed world. Which so sucks for General Motors and Unilever and Diageo and everyfriggin'body else.

This plus the Chaos Scenario in mass marketing (about which I may have previously mentioned a word or two) spells decades of trouble for everyone sitting in the Cannes bars, watching the World Cup, oblivious to the twin nightmares rapidly enveloping them.

The only bright side is that, at least theoretically (factoring out slavery and kleptocracy) drops in real wages in the West should see corresponding increases in the developing world. Middle classes are forming in China even as they are under siege in Budapest, London and Detroit. Oh, and mass media in most of those places isn't yet on quite the same death watch.

Hmm. In World Cup terms, take your money off of Holland. Put it on the Ivory Coast.

Bob Garfield, now a consultant, has reported on advertising, marketing and media for 28 years.
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