Commentary

Out From The Ashes...

As you read this, it is Election Day. This means that you know the answer to two of the most important questions possibly of our age -- is our economy holding, and who will be the next President to deal with whatever is there.

Writing now while people debate the character attributes of moose killing and Saturday Night Live impersonations, it is sometimes hard to realize that our entire financial and economic infrastructure is facing a meltdown that my our generation has never seen -- one that is utterly global in impact.

I wish the scope of this column would allow me to pontificate a little on how I see what got us here, and the depth of the structural concerns we face. But our mandate is the media and marketing world, so allow me to focus on the ramifications of a few of what historically have been the best ad sectors (and the leaders online).

The financial sector is in a perfect storm of ramifications -- the best case scenario is that many major investment institutions and banks will be sold or consolidate. It is equally realistic that many may simply go belly-up. Real estate prices, which have fallen nearly 20%, could fall double digits further -- making many commercial and private real estate worth less than their mortgages. The impact on financial institutional advertising, branding and lead-gen, and any classifieds advertising associated with financing a home or a car will be dramatic.

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Auto, in fact, is in a tailspin -- another perfect storm of major U.S. manufactures caught with too many gas-guzzling SUVs, a rise of interest rates, gas prices and unemployment coupled with a credit crunch that makes financing cars as easy as a camel passing through an eye of the needle. Auto manufacturers simply have few ad dollars and dealerships have even less to drive sales in any form locally.

A low valued dollar brought hope to the worlds of travel and hotels, on and offline, as foreign travel and great deals for folks from abroad would make up for the precipitous decline in U.S. travel. A friend who is a senior executive in the online travel world told me this week that for the first time they are seeing a great drop in their significant European business. Net impact: advertising down.

Pharmaceutical, entertainment, music, even technology itself -- all with great pressure on margins -- are waiting to see where the economy is going AND what a potentially new legislative and regulatory world in Washington will bring. In our interactive worlds, what the future of DTC health advertising, how D.C. treats behavioral targeting, where they will come down on net neutrality all will be taken up in a new and uncertain year.

OK, I hope I have your attention.

And, yet, in all this perhaps there lies potential for unprecedented opportunity and change in the entire face of marketing.

A world where most sectors are under incredible pressure also means intense discipline. The need to find and serve usefully individuals, to spend dollars with great efficiency, and to know with precision the return on that investment -- always crucial -- is now utterly necessary. And this necessity may bring with it an interactive revolution in audience engagement that technology and interactive advertising has been offering structurally, but timidly accepted by marketers.

In all this uncertainty, the audience shift to interactive continues at a breathless pace. Traditional forms of advertising remains geared to audiences and technologies that respectively are voting with their feet and ceasing to exist. Social media, mocked at the moment as an advertising vehicle, aggregates the largest and most passionate people with specific needs that only the interactive world can deliver. The distinction between "phones" and mobile computing devices is final, and people will be able to seek and receive opportunities to better their lives and find products and services on their person unimaginable a few years ago.

Our nation, and our economy, is for all its current turmoil built on remarkable innovation and optimism and ability to muscle through challenges. And if history has shown anything it is that even in our darkest moments, great innovation has offered great opportunity to benefit of people and marketers alike. And in our darkest moments people can finally shift old behaviors to new ones because the cost of change is less than the cost of staying the same.

Every business will be re-thinking its premises in every area in the next year. Perhaps we will finally be on the cusp of the full revolution in marketing that technology and user behaviors have been hoping for years.

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