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Just three months ago, the stock market's gyrations and a global economic crisis created the sense a U.S. recession was imminent; that the long boom was finally about to go bust. The good news for marketers and consumers as '99 begins is that things seem to have settled down: the stock market has recovered; inflation and unemployment remain low; and consumer spending during the holidays was strong. While a recession is still possible, forecasters predict slow, steady growth. Marketers aren't yet pulling back, but that doesn't mean there's nothing to fret about.

Marketing is going through immense changes that impact all areas of the business. Marketers face new pressures in reaching consumers. Media companies must adapt to the changing demands of the global marketplace. Retailers are consolidating (along with everyone else). Marketing disciplines once considered "below the line" are coming into their own. And ad agencies are redefining themselves as marketing communications specialists to ward off competition from, among others, strategic consultants.

Crystal balls can be unreliable, but we've gazed at ours to see what should be high on the marketing world's agenda.

* Mergermania. There's less to buy but acquisitive companies will look to pick the shelves clean of the juiciest remaining independents. Expect more megamergers among consumer goods companies. Their global needs will fuel continued consolidation in the agency world, where more entrepreneurs are likely to cash out while the economy is strong.

* Multicultural moves. Funding multicultural marketing is no longer a feel-good option for marketers but a necessity for companies that want to be in business 20 years from now. The size and spending power of the U.S. Hispanic, African-American and Asian markets are expanding rapidly, and marketers need a more sophisticated understanding of these cultures.

* Tense times. Marketers and their former agencies are taking their tiffs to court; CEOs are mostly removed from ad decisions; turnover in marketing departments is sparking an endless series of account reviews, sometimes for no apparent reason; compensation systems are shifting; and strategic consultants are making new inroads with clients. Forget marketing partners; agencies and clients may soon need counseling just to be in the same room. We again urge the Association of National Advertisers to reverse its decision to invite agencies to join as full members. ANA instead should work with the American Association of Advertising Agencies to form joint committees and offer a model of cooperation that agencies and marketers can look to in mending their own relationships.

* Caught in the Web. This is the year the last remaining barriers will fall, standards will be set and the Internet will become firmly established -- alongside TV, print, radio and out of home -- as a major ad medium. Ad spending on the Web approached $2 billion in '98, by one estimate, and could double that figure this year. E-commerce is also booming; consumer spending on holiday shopping via the Internet topped $2 billion in '98. Ignore that at your own peril.

nAge discrimination. Despite all that's known about the spending power of Baby Boomers, more and more marketers are focusing their ad messages too tightly on the twentysomething demographic. In doing so, they ignore and alienate not only boomers and seniors, but any adults over 30. The marketplace failure of Miller Brewing Co.'s youth-obsessed ad strategy for Miller Lite beer should serve as a clear warning to other marketers. That goes for the dot.coms as well. Teens and twentysomethings aren't the only ones surfing the Web. And this issue isn't just age-related. We'd like to see less frivolous, ego-fueled creative in '99 and more advertising that strives to be both entertaining and effective.

When all is said and done, however, consider 1999 another year of opportunity -- not anxiety. And if the year's early optimism is not fulfilled, the wise marketer will be the one that plans -- and advertises -- in preparation for the

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