Claire Beale On Advertising: Whisper it, but it looks like we might survive

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Eavesdrop on any adland lunch table chat right now and you’ll find that confidence is creeping back onto the menu. We’ve hit recession’s rock bottom and now we’re on the (slow) bounce. And it’s not just wishful thinking. We have facts.

OK...not facts exactly, but forecasts. And for an industry built on flimsy research, that’s good enough. A new report predicts that the ad industry will enjoy “mild global recovery” in 2010. Whisper it, but it looks like we might survive. Of course, this year will be a bloodbath. According to the new ZenithOptimedia study, worldwide advertising spend will slump by 8.5 per cent in 2009, and that’s worse than Zenith was predicting just a few months ago.

But the medium-term prognosis is better. By 2010 we’ll be revelling in a 1.6 per cent upturn. Yes, that’s 1.6 per cent against this year’s disastrous crash, but still we’re bottoming out. And 2011 is expected to be another 4.3 per cent up. It seems that although advertisers in the finance, automotive and business travel sectors slashed spend, retail and FMCG advertising (particularly at the value-for-money end of these markets) has held up better than expected.

But are we ready to capitalise on these first fragile signs of recovery?

Are we ready to remind the international advertising world that Britain is the place to come for first-class creative work, production facilities and strategic thinking? Some help driving that message home would be nice. Perhaps London’s mayor Boris Johnson could take a lead from New York’s Michael Bloomberg. Recognising the economic value of New York’s communications businesses, he is on a mission to give his media industry all the help he can.

Here’s what Bloomberg’s doing; listen up Boris. He’s launching a Media and Tech Fellowship to help fund new businesses and new innovations. Then he’s introducing tax exempt bonds to help companies invest in new technological, research and production facilities. He’s creating a New York City Media Lab to help the city’s businesses and universities collaborate on research and insight and to provide a space for lectures, debates and networking events.

There’s more. A new training programme will help equip people for jobs in new media, and in lower Manhattan, a building is being prepared as a centre for media freelancers, with workstations, conference space and news facilities. Bloomberg is now scouring the globe to encourage businesses in the communications industry to locate to New York.

It reminds me of a story I heard recently from a Canadian ad firm looking to expand into Europe. Should they choose Amsterdam or London for their HQ? In Amsterdam the city grandees threw a party to introduce the agency to other businesses there, prepared a bespoke start-up pack jammed with invaluable advice for a company new in town and pledged plenty of practical support if the agency decided to move in. The agency found no such welcome in London.

Amsterdam, you see, wants to be a global centre for creative excellence. So guess which city the agency chose for its European base, guess where it’s now creating jobs, spending money, making great advertising. Not London. Johnson’s office is apparently doing a sector analysis of all major industries in the capital so it can work out how best to support them. Hmm. And there have been a few mutterings from the Government about the need to push “Creative Britain”. But advertising and the wider creative industries need practical and financial support right now.

Britain is clinging to its reputation as one of the globe’s leading ad markets, and it’s still a hotbed of talent, innovation and creative excellence. But with our rivals upping their pitch, our grip is slipping. Without more government support, our little green shoots will remain just that while the world’s other leading ad markets invest their way to recovery.

Best in Show: Hula Hoops (Publicis)

Often the best ads are the ones that take a real brand truth and do something funny or surprising with it. Take Hula Hoops. Don't deny you do that thing of putting them on your fingers.

Well, now Hula Hoops’ ad agency, Publicis, has launched a campaign showing people doing just that, and turning their Hoops into little puppets. In one ad these puppets are the Village People, dancing to YMCA, in another they are a DJ with a mixing deck. Make your own Hoop puppet film, post it on the website and try to win a trip to Hollywood. Or you could just eat them

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