The Fear Factor

There is no doubt that things are changing and that people are afraid. The question is, how will this effect the way we do business? Which marketing and advertising solutions will benefit from the current crisis and which will falter? And here is another question: can we believe what we read? Is everything as bleak as people say it is? Should we be as afraid as we are? Is the sky really falling?

Judging by what I read in the papers, including those that arrive in my email box from this publication, things sound very bleak indeed. According to Masha’s “Just an Online Minute” Digitas has laid off 350 and client loyalty is fading. I personally know many people at agencies who have been recently laid off. I know others who want to leave their jobs, move to another city, but can’t because there are no jobs in those cities.

And yet, when I go visit agencies as part of my travels, the ones I’ve been visiting lately are swamped. Granted they are getting by with much less staff. But there has been a definite up tick lately in business. I assume some of it has to do with the season, but even the agencies seem surprised by the increased work. Afraid to ramp up in case it goes away, they are nevertheless running around like crazy. And this isn’t an isolated incident. It is at every agency I’ve visited. Some are even launching new interactive divisions.



Maybe it means that advertisers have woken up. Maybe it’s a fluke. All I know is that it doesn’t jive with what I read. Good news doesn’t sell. People can get addicted to bad news. When people are fearful, the don’t look for those things that will make them feel better: by some perverse quirk of nature we look for those things that will make us feel worse and justify our worst fears.

Bob Dylan in his folky period (which seems to be coming around full circle) said that the times are changing; the first one will be last, the last first. So who’s going to be first? Who last?

Well, I think a safe bet is that streaming audio and video will come out of this way ahead of where they started. Part of the adoption cycle of any new technology revolves around changing people’s habits: getting them to do something in a way they never have before. This is not an easy process. It takes time or some cataclysmic event. We’ve had the cataclysmic event and by all reports there is a big up surge in business for streaming video conference companies. Once you get used to doing business via streaming video rather than face to face and have actually done it a few times, you are more open to other forms of streaming video communication: the kinds of things that MindArrow does with their e-Brochure. Will video and audio email suddenly take off, replacing that face-to-face habit which has been newly been broken? Could be.

Then, who will take the hit? Certainly any technology that is geared specifically for the travel industry is going to face hard times. I know technology companies in this sector that are completely demoralized right now. A month and a half ago their product plans seemed like a sure hit. And now it is just empty code. And two months ago, many streaming video companies and conferences seemed on their last legs. Suddenly they have been given a new lease on life. The first will be last, the last first.

Here is another thought. More people are staying in. That means more people are home watching TV, surfing the Net, reading magazines. More people will start purchasing on-line because they don’t want to go to places like Shopping Malls. This means that both e-commerce and advertising should go back up. Dramatically. When?

I think soon. I think now.

But then I’m always going against the prevailing wind. And I never believe what I read.

-- Bill McCloskey is Founder and CEO of Emerging Interest, an organization dedicated to educating the Internet advertising and marketing industry about rich media and other emerging technologies.

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