Fear, mania, winners, losers: it's my year 2000 forecasts

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You'd think Ad Age would've given me notice. But no. Instead, a week before Christmas I get a call. "Guess what? No column for the next two weeks." What a terrible decision! Not only did it take the food from the mouths of the children I don't have, but it deprived you, my faithful fans, of every columnist's traditional, end-of-the-millennium prerogative: a review of history's greatest moments in marketing communication.

Now you'll never know what I consider the best event ad of all time -- Chiat/Day's "1984" Super Bowl spot for Apple Computer, or God sending Moses down Mt. Sinai with the 10 Commandments. Likewise, the most important media takeover: CBS by Viacom, or tonsured monks by Gutenberg? You'll just have to remain in the dark. Most effective pharmaceutical campaign -- Viagra or the plague? That'll remain my secret, too.

However, you'll be able to enjoy this columnist's equally traditional beginning-of-the-year prerogative: predictions for the next 12 months in marketing communication.

Here's what you can expect:

* The U.S. will experience its first advertising-induced recession.

When the final tally of 1999 holiday retail spending is released, it will not only show that few of the dot-com e-commerce sites pulled in any customers, it will reveal that a kazillion dollars in advertising spending do not a brand maketh, even as Internet-driven fragmentation continues to erode the value of existing brands. In the stock market, irrational exuberance will turn into neurotic fear; in the media market, ad spending will dry up; in the supermarket, people will start buying Spam -- or its generic equivalent -- to go with the stockpiled water left over from the Y2K blackouts that didn't happen.

* Broadband mania will replace e-commerce mania.

All that investment capital has to go somewhere, so why not to the hot new medium on which AT&T just spent $100 billion? While most of the content will be as entertaining as an evening of public-access cable, it won't stop the fat-pipe carnival.

* The music industry will have its first breakout hit born from MP3.

Although the record industry has been scared to death by the disintermediating force of the Internet, the fact remains that few beyond the big labels have the marketing budgets to push an act to the multinational masses and draw profits from it. Web distribution will definitely empower a few upstart competitors, but it will also provide the majors an unparalleled opportunity to test market new performers at virtually no cost and tell the hits from the misses. Y2K will inevitably see the musical equivalent of "The Blair Witch Project."

* Jay Chiat's Screaming Media will find its niche.

Most content-related Web sites are banking on their ability to aggregate an audience. But the weight of the technology is toward fragmentation, not aggregation. Screaming Media has tools that help developers of original content find new aftermarkets for their work, in the niche business sites that need news as a draw. Jay's found a business model in Splitsville.

* A major online advertising company will buy a major offline advertising company.

So far, most of the action has been megaconglomerates taking stakes in the downtown newbies. But it's a fair bet that a Doubleclick type will seek to trade its overheated stock for a majority share in a stalwart traditionalist. It'll be like CKS Group's acquisition of McKinney & Silver, only bigger.

* A major New Media company will buy a major Old Media company.

Having flipped Infinity to CBS and CBS to Viacom, you think Mel Karmazin's gonna sit still now? Not with AOL and Microsoft out there. And if not Karmazin, maybe the fella who succeeds Welch or Eisner.

* Bob Cherins will retire a billionaire.

Well, not a billionaire exactly -- but a comfortable multimillionaire given the extraordinary runup in the stock of Juno Online Services, the free e-mail service of which Cherins, a former McCaffrey & McCall exec, is an options-holding exec VP. Juno the week before Christmas shot to $87 from about $16 a share before settling down at about $48. The reason? It announced it would start giving away the Web access for which it had been charging $9.95 a month. Yes, I can do the math, too. Yeah, maybe he ought to retire soon.

Mr. Rothenberg can be reached at [email protected]

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