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`Advertising agencies often evoke history's lessons and scrutinize current trends. But only a handful devote meaningful resources to prognostication. TBWA Chiat/Day joined that group last May with the formation of its Department of the Future, which announced as its primary mission, "The monitoring of the global convergence of communications media and the interpretation of the implications of fads, movements and trends on behalf of agency clients." It also promised a "dedicated focus on millennium planning."

Marian Salzman serves as the agency network's chief crystal-ball gazer, more formally known as worldwide director of the DOF. It's a role she seemed destined to play.

An energetic and high-profile futurist, author and youth-marketing consultant, Ms. Salzman teamed with adman Jay Chiat earlier this decade to form American Dialogue, a research company that conducted online focus groups. She joined what was then Chiat/Day in December 1994 as director of emerging media and consumer insights, based in New York.

Having set up shop in a renovated former Heineken brewery in Amsterdam, Ms. Salzman agreed to participate in an interview-conducted by e-mail, of course-about the future of marketing communications. Over several days in late October and early November, she exchanged electronic questions and answers with Advertising Age Executive Editor Scott Donaton.

Advertising Age: What exactly is a department of the future?

Ms. Salzman: (Picture me leaning back in a chair-I am-pondering, hopefully wisely, as I search for an answer.)

Short strokes: Our findings/interpretations/strategic recommendations are weapons for the agency's intelligence arsenal, hopefully to be used to connect people to the brands in our stewardship better than any other advertising agency in the world.

Also, we are partially about smart approaches to new business/new product development for existing clients and new messaging styles in the brave new world we're racing towards.

How fast we will face this world, as marketers, is hard to know. But I read this morning in the Independent (London) that the media industry in the U.K. is being warned to anticipate 100% computer literacy in that country by 2000, which means whole new "content" industries springing up and media companies being forced to shift from product lines to service approaches.

Welcome to the day of customized everything, I suppose.

AA: How exactly does one go about setting up such a unit?

Ms. Salzman: The mission grows out of a new consumer reality: The world is becoming more and more global. Consumers must balance global outlooks with hyperlocal wants and needs. The agency's response: "Advertisers and marketers must be poised to communicate new messages in new mediums." Agencies must evolve into full-service communicators. The DOF is TBWA's first response.

AA: How does the DOF fit into the disciplinary mix?

Ms. Salzman: The DOF isn't the new-media arm of TBWA. Rather, we are the challengers who help to determine appropriate communications vehicles and to decode the protocols of each medium. A brand's message and personality must be married to the medium, whether it's Internet, point of purchase or cable TV.

Thus, DOF-style thinking has a role in what we consider adaptive consistency-translating brand personality and "oomph" across anything and everything from delivery-truck signage to traditional magazines to employee recruitment brochures to Web sites and CD-ROMs.

In the primer we wrote for employees worldwide, we said, "It's time to pay attention to the emerging consumer. And to speak to him or her about brands. It's the job of the DOF to coach the other agency disciplines in the language and behaviors and thought processes of the new consumer; to connect the agency company to consumers, so the agency company can connect consumers to brands."

AA: Is it your role just to study how technological advances will impact marketing, or to look at the bigger picture of how marketing as a process will evolve?

Ms. Salzman: Our mandate is holistic and strategic. Sometimes we identify problems and solve them with interactive messaging; other times we recognize that a competitive advantage can be had by outstudying the other players in a sector and devising new selling channels or new products or by reinventing packages or promotions or even a brand's personality, tone of voice or place in the consumer's marketbasket of products and services.

We take bold steps into the future, ask very hard questions, and explore alternative scenarios to ensure that "What if?" questions get answered.

Even if the news is bad, that just spells C-H-A-L-L-E-N-G-E. Bigger problems simply require bigger solutions to solve 'em.

(More later. I need another cup of coffee and am having a massively bad-hair day today, since Amsterdam is very, very damp.)

AA: Everyone makes a big deal about the year 2000, but it's less than four years away. We're obviously not living the life of "The Jetsons" right now, so why do we think things will change significantly with the new millennium?

Ms. Salzman: Bluntly, I think the future is about being able to envision a place/time where things may well be better, or surely "reinvented." The millennium concept also ties into this inner-cleansing, which observers believe is essential (the same motivation that enables us to see flaws on New Year's Eve as more about a change agenda than about traits/behaviors for which we need to apologize).

The Jetsons are the future, but in some ways-without the cartoon-like characterization of George and Jane-much of what their lives were are the lives we live now. I see online, just for example, as my bridge to parallel, and multiple, universes. After a lengthy cyber-chat, I do feel that I have "talked" with a friend. [And] I do credit America Online with being the sole reason I'm not homesick or out of touch with Americana. Thus, without making the Jetsons over, I'd say we're all a tad like 'em, some of us.

AA: What does your crystal ball tell you about what marketing will be like in the next millennium?

Ms. Salzman: In our view, there are only three inevitables: death, taxes and losing socks in the dryer. We can "guesstimate"-with high levels of accuracy-likely scenarios and the results of those scenarios based upon brands' reactions.

The old adage "What goes around, comes around" is forever true in the world of marketing communications. Thus, we mix our sense of today's fundamental changes with a reverence for a brand's or a marketplace's traditions and history.

Expect great waves of nostalgia balanced by futuristic journeys into the millennium after this one . . . At the same time that consumers are embracing new technologies and planning for the millennium, they've also grown nostalgic for the innocence and pre-technological simplicity of their childhoods. Manufacturers are responding by reintroducing long-defunct product lines.

AA: Of the changes you see coming, which will be the most significant?

Mr. Salzman: People are desperately seeking community and familial ties, so expect "family values" marketing styles to become a global imperative with hyperlocal interpretation of which values are PG-enough for which cultures.

Also, expect to see interactivity start in the home with women embracing the Net as an affordable means of communicating with loved ones, friends, acquaintances, you name it. Think about how the phone found its way into the home and into the bedroom. Imagine that 30 years ago, a phone in the bedroom would have been considered ridiculous; today, we'd wonder about anyone who didn't have a phone on a stand adjacent to their bed.

[Also,] watch sexiness become more about allure and less about the physical aspects of sexuality. Electronic intimacy will give great life to the debate about what constitutes infidelity. Lusting in your heart? Via the computer?

AA: How will the next generation of consumers react to the shifts around them?

Ms. Salzman: We are scared to death of change and also determined to raise the smartest kids possible to be sure our offspring can compete in this brave new world. Thus, expect to see enormous emphasis placed on educating global youth, with parents being more aware than ever that their kids must learn to analyze, to think critically and also to cope with the gloomy thing that's overwhelming them-rapid change and the insecurities it introduces into their lives.

Also, [we should expect] a blurring of national expectations andthrust into a more global/international, uncontrollable lifestyle, where the rules may not necessarily be familiar.

AA: What global trends are you most closely watching now to determine future events?

Ms. Salzman: First, do-it-yourself finance. As the world becomes more wired, consumers are demanding greater control over their personal finances and financial planning. On America Online, an estimated 250,000 households visit the Motley Fool personal investment site each month and the Silicon Investor Website draws 30,000 daily visitors and 60,000 monthly postings.

Interactive activities online range from the practical (online trading) to the educational (worksheets and brokerage screening programs), to the entertaining (contests). Coopers & Lybrand estimates that one-third of all American households will be using computers for some form of online investment or banking by 2004.

Another trend: The new emphasis on self-seduction. Responding to marketing messages to "seduce themselves first," women around the world are indulging themselves with lingerie and other intimate items they might once have received only as gifts.

In China, for example, demand for lingerie has been increasing 20% a year in major cities and even faster in outlying areas. Other popular items include aromatherapeutic candles with names such as Seduction and Sensuality, and fragrances for men and women that claim to "center the body and mind."

AA: Do trends vary from country to country?

Ms. Salzman: A tandem trend we're seeing in Europe and North America is consumers' desire to limit their impact on the environment at the same time that they're trying to limit the environment's impact on them. Though consumers generally continue to stress quality and price over environmental concerns, more and more large retailers are beginning to stock "green" items in an effort to appeal to younger and more environmentally conscious shoppers.

This trend is being manifested in such ways as the increased use of natural cosmetics ingredients; manufacturers' claims that their products are all natural, hypoallergenic and not tested on animals; increased use of organically grown cotton and hemp in the apparel industry; the promotion of "sustainable architecture" and recycled building materials; the expansion of the overall market for organic and other forms of health food (this is particularly evident in Germany); and the trend toward clear products.

AA: How does a department of the future deal with present realities? Do you ignore them, discount them, view them only in a longer-term context?

Ms. Salzman: Some days, I feel like Lucy with the lemonade stand-that I am worldwide director of the Department of the Here and Now.

Truth be told, the here and now is the future for those who lag behind early adopters, thus I am extremely conscious of everything happening out there, and especially aware that what I take for granted might still be revolutionary in Dexter, Maine; Ypsilanti, Mich.; and Bryan, Texas, especially in terms of attitudinal shifts.

The fact is, I am living the future in a city where tradition stares me in the face, day and night, particularly those nights when I .*.*. cycle to a bar, which might be housed in a 300-year-old building adjacent to a canal, on a Grannie bike from the 1950s. DOF or not, there are still life things, like I ride a big, old bicycle, drink a classic Heineken beer and talk with people who say, "You do computers?" as if I repair them, rather than communicate via them.

What is happening in the present is what becomes the trend of the future.

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