Commentary

Coen Cuts Media (Really -- As In, Cuts It Out)

Robert J. Coen, Senior VP-director of forecasting for MAGNA, who delivered his midyear presentation on ad spending on Tuesday, said that 2008 would suck and that 2009 will bite the big one. Asked by reporters to provide some frame of reference for his forecast, Coen refused, saying, "Trust me, it's going to be ugly. When I'm paying $4.35 for gas and watching my electric bill jump to four figures every month, these are not omens of good things to come."

For nearly a half century Coen has twice annually provided charts, graphs and PowerPoints to illustrate his predictions for ad spending in all media, but this year he just scanned and projected onscreen his last five grocery story receipts, two bills from his veterinarian, and his monthly commutation ticket.

"This is really getting out of hand," said Coen.

He then showed a list of his "media access" charges, ranging from his $150 cable TV charge to his DSL costs, his crackberry statement, his land lines, his mobile line charges, the iPhone account he got his wife for her birthday, and the mobile access account for his laptop. In a subsequent slide he projected renewals notices from 18 different magazines, three national newspapers, a local daily and a local weekly. "I'm only keeping the local," he said, noting that everything else was available online at no cost (other than his DSL and mobile laptop costs, of course).

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"When the cost of buying a single steak at the grocery passes $20, other things will have to go. Some of those other things will be media-related," he said. "I'm sorry. I love all media, I really do, but I am kissing HBO on Demand goodbye, all the magazines, most of the newspapers, and am giving serious consideration to stepping down from the premium package from my cable system. I'll miss 'Weeds' -- but now that 'The Wire' is over, I can live with a lower tier of programs not worth watching anyway," he said.

"Hey Coen is one guy," said a broadcast executive who asked not to be identified. "Wait until all his pals start talking about Mossberg on our network. He'll rethink his cost-cutting strategy."

Coen said that although he was admittedly more upscale than most average Americans, he too felt the need to scale back spending, since his stock portfolio was tanking and he faces a mortgage reset in another 18 months. He listed items that he felt no longer worth the expense:

Movies - "Angelina Jolie just isn't worth $10--she's gotten too skinny--not to mention another fin for popcorn and a soda."

Conferences - "I like to keep up, but after you add in the downtime from flight delays, airline nit-picking charges like bag checking, the seat selection and boarding schedule, hotel nit-picking charges from Internet access to no-smoking rooms, and restaurants that charge $39.50 for a piece of fish, I find I can't go anywhere for less than $5,000. Not happening anymore."

Organic food - "I have lived this long eating 'inorganic' food. I don't think I need to pay 50% more for little stickers on each piece of fruit or vegetable."

Yankees - "I can remember sitting in the outfield for 50 cents. I can live without paying $75 a game to see the highest-paid team in baseball history lose to Toronto."

Natural fiber clothes - "I have lived this long wearing 'inorganic" cotton and wool and sleeping on goose down. I think I'll slug out the next few decades riding the horse that brought me."

Asked what all this had to do with advertising, he mused a moment and waxed poetically, "Falsehoods which we spurn today, were the truths of long ago."

The story you have just read is an attempt to blend fact and fiction in a manner that provokes thought, and on a good day, merriment. It would be ill-advised to take any of it literally. Take it, rather, with the same humor with which it is intended. Cut and paste or link to it at your own peril.

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