Commentary by Scott Donaton


CEOs, Brutal Economy, Battered Brands and Technologies That Change It All

By Published on .

As a rule, I don't like to write year-end columns (although I love to read them). There's just something
Scott Donaton, editor of 'Advertising Age.'

artificial about tying things up in a neat bundle simply because it's the time of year when media companies send over desk diaries embossed with my name and Zagat's guides embossed with theirs.

Yet ever since I was reminded that this is my last byline of 2002, I've felt compelled to write one of those columns where I share my views on the issues and trends that mattered most over the last 12 months. (Skeptics might view this as an attempt to disguise the lack of a real column idea. To which I would reply: Yeah, so?)

With apologies in advance, then, to the editors of Advertising Age's forthcoming annual Year in Review feature, these are some of the things that floated my boat in 2002:

Holding company CEOs
Maurice Levy's relentlessness paid off with a trip to The Show. His acquisition of Bcom3 gave the industry its Final Four. Everyone else is now officially just everyone else. John Dooner had the toughest time of any of the Big Four, and his troubles won't end when the year does. Expect more management changes at Interpublic and the reorganization of some of its holdings. Big question: Can Dooner finally persuade Donny Deutsch to take over one of his lagging units? Omnicom survived its own Wall Street pummeling after questions were raised about some of its accounting practices and then quickly dismissed. John Wren emerged from his lost summer stronger for the ordeal, if disappointed that investors lowered the ceiling for the sector. WPP's Martin Sorrell, who can usually be counted on for colorful headlines, was surprisingly quiet.

The economy, stupid
Shhh! Don't tell the broadcast TV networks, but there's still a recession on. That said, based on anecdotal evidence gathered in conversations with marketers, media sellers and agencies, I feel more optimistic about 2003 than I did even six weeks ago. While no one expects a boom, in a marketplace where "flat" has been good, some now predict growth. A rising tide won't necessarily lift all boats, though. Says one marketing veteran: "Budgets will return. But those who assume they will automatically return to the same places have another thing coming."

Brands in trouble
It was hard to shed tears for some of the brands that reached the end of their life cycles. While it was appropriate to celebrate the past successes of the ad agencies Ayer and D'Arcy, for example, it was easy to see that they had no futures. Rosie and Talk, magazines launched in the service of egos rather than readers, met the fates they deserved. United Airlines is likely to survive, albeit in a pared-down, Rhapsody-in-JetBlue form. America Online will stay connected, but I'm with those who favor dropping the AOL moniker from the AOL Time Warner name -- if only to make it easier to write Time Warner headlines.

Madison & Vine
The intersection of content and commerce reminds me of the early days of interactive, I told Scott Kurnit, an online and cable TV pioneer. Said the other Scott: This is more transformative. Once again we have a new technology (personal-video recorders) that empowers consumers and forces marketers -- who hate to, but have to, give up control -- to rethink how they communicate. We have a community taking shape, complete with the inevitable jockeying. We have hype threatening to obscure reality. We have older executives praying it won't happen on their watch and bolder ones eager to experiment. Where it all goes is unclear, but here's where it won't go: away.

See you in 2003.

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