It's 1976 and agencies and buying services are scrambling to reserve time in light of the troika of advertising opportunities: The U.S. Bicentennial, the Montreal Olympic Games and the general elections that included a hard-fought Gerald Ford-Jimmy Carter presidential election.
That year, the network CPM jumped 25% to 35% over the previous fall; spot CPM climbed 25% to as high as 75%, and many advertisers found themselves not only out of luck for 1976 but scrambling to get into the 1977 season.
THAT WAS '76; THIS IS NOW
Mel Karmazin, president-CEO CBS Corp. speaking at the media conference of the American Association of Advertising Agencies in February, said this year's upfront was likely going to be comparable to the bull-run of '76.
Expectations are that the presidential campaign will start up a little early -- by the end of the third quarter or beginning of the fourth quarter -- due to some state primaries occurring a few months early.
Nearly everyone expects hoopla of some kind surrounding the millennium and the Sydney Olympic Games -- a big year 2000 event -- has marketers thinking ahead.
However, "in many ways, this is just another year like other years in the 1990s," says Chris Geraci, senior VP-group director for national TV buying, BBDO Worldwide, New York. "Many of the big events, like the presidential elections and the Olympics, really are going to have more impact in the year 2000 upfront, and aside from a small flurry of millennium activity, it will come down to what happens with the economy and with the stock market.
"Sure, the big broadcast networks are pushing sponsorships for shows on [New Year's Day] but they're asking for people to support a time period that's really not very important overall," says Mr. Geraci. "From a global perspective, for many people, it will just be a turn of the calendar page."
ABC is touting its millennium-theme package to advertisers. Opportunities will include ad buys on TV, radio and Internet.
Marketers hoping to reach into various niches of the Asian-American consumer group should be aware that the new millennium occurs in the year of the dragon.
"New Year's Day already is the biggest holiday for many Japanese, and the year 2000 is of great significance for many Chinese, Korean and Japanese," says Atsuko Watanabe, president, Admerasia, New York, which specializes in advertising, media and marketing to Asian consumers. "The year 2000 is the year of the dragon, the strongest sign of the [Chinese] zodiac, and that's cause for major celebration."
The economy, too, is a major factor in this year's upfront marketplace, advertisers, agencies and media executives agree. But there is a key difference between 1999 and 1976: In 1976, the economic climate came on the heels of inflation.
That year the economy picked up and advertisers came back into the marketplace with hefty budgets. New products were introduced such as American Tourister's Very Lite luggage, Andrew Jergen's Co.'s Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific shampoo and Bristol-Myers' Tickle antiperspirant. Also, Procter & Gamble Co. started its national rollout for Dawn dishwashing detergent, backed by a TV campaign from Benton & Bowles, New York, and Colgate-Palmolive increased its spending significantly in 1976.
Retailers began to use TV in a bigger way. Sears, Roebuck & Co., launched its first corporate image campaign since 1962. The commercials -- created by Ogilvy & Mather, New York -- aired during the summer Olympics.
And, significantly, government-imposed ceilings on station rates were removed.
"The major factor that year was the economy," says Robert J. Coen, senior VP-director of forecasting, McCann-Erickson Worldwide, New York. "Remember, we were coming out of a recession, out of a period of inflation, out of the years of the oil embargoes, and with the economy starting to improve, there was a lot of pent-up demand that was played out suddenly in the 1976 upfront marketplace."
The economic outlook for 1999 -- on the heels of several good years -- is for sustained consumer confidence, easy consumer credit availability and maybe a little influence by the millennium on brand promotion, says Mr. Coen.
WATCHING MARKET SHIFT
Still, while the economy is relatively healthy, "a sudden change in the stock market could impact all our careful budget planning," adds Peter Chrisanthopoulos, president-broadcasting and programming USA for O&M. "And, the stock market, unfortunately, is one of the critical factors that no one can predict."
In December, David Poltrack, CBS exec VP-planning and research, said TV revenues may rise only about 4% in 1999, down from the 9% gains by the industry in 1998.
But with indications of a very strong scatter market, and increased interest by companies in the technology sector he now points out "there may well be a tremendous push" for time in this year's upfront.
"The millennium advertising we'll see will most likely come from products and services that offer a cutting edge or are somehow linked to the future," Mr. Poltrack says. "And there are going to be marketers who want to be linked in consumers' minds with such a once-in-a-lifetime event such as the millennium."
"I look forward each year to the upfront with fear and trepidation," says Scott Munz, director of media for RC Brands, marketer of Diet Rite, RC Cola and RC Edge colas. "When there's a big push in the upfront, it pushes advertisers out into scatter and that definitely has an impact on our media plans."
"There is the psychological belief that inventory tends to be tight when there are presidential elections and Olympics, as there will be in 2000," says Aaron Cohen, exec VP-director of broadcast, Horizon Media, New York.
'Get it now' is the psychological mind-set," he notes, "and there are plenty of people in this industry who really believe this is true because historically, during the presidential elections and Olympics, they can't be sure of getting enough time. That's certainly what the networks, cable and syndication operators