Marian Salzman: 'Local will be the new global'

Marian Salzman travels the world spotting media trends. The top futurologist gives her predictions on how we'll live and work in 2010.

Ian Burrell
Monday 04 January 2010 01:00

You have to hand it to Marian Salzman. For someone known internationally as a media futurist it takes some self-confidence to confess that you thought Facebook was just a pointless student fad, and that your initial reaction to Twitter was that it was "a ridiculous thing".

But Salzman, writer, advertising executive, global public relations guru, has every faith in her judgement, having spent her career spotting trends invisible to most of us until she gave them a name. She is the author of books with titles such as Next, Now and Buzz and The Future of Men and has championed such new breeds as the "Wigger" (suburban whites infatuated with black urban culture) and the "Metrosexual" (the sensitive, city-dwelling modern male).

So she is not afraid to tell things as she sees them. On a brief visit to Europe, the Connecticut-based Salzman dares suggest a view that in most London media circles is tantamount to heresy; namely that Rupert Murdoch is overrated as a power player. "I don't know if it's geography or personal pull but a man is making a market here and I don't feel that influence," she says, referring to the way the British media breathlessly responded to The Times's online paywall plans and the attempted resuscitation of MySpace.

"In America he is no different from any other titan; [NBC's] Ben Silverman ... Oprah Winfrey, [New York Times owner] Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. There are about 24 of them, each interesting and iconic. Rupert Murdoch? I'd be much more interested in [Google's] Sergey Brin or [Facebook's] Mark Zuckerberg." As for MySpace, "it's perceived as virtually over. It's just a music destination for people that are big music aficionados – and to promote indie bands."

Despite her early suspicions of Facebook and Twitter, Salzman, 48, describes herself as "totally internet-addicted since '92". She is "certainly not someone who's technologically fearful in any way". Her roles within the advertising industry, where she has been based in London, New York and Amsterdam, include such grandiose titles as "worldwide director of the Department of the Future" at TBWA, "president of the Intelligence Factory" at Young & Rubicam and, more conventionally, "chief marketing officer" at JWT Worldwide.

She has written columns for Adweek in America and for Marketing Week and Psychologies in the UK. And during the course of a Eurostar journey to Paris, where she has a meeting with senior colleagues at the global marketing communications agency Euro RSCG Worldwide, she breaks down how she thinks media will be produced and consumed in 2010.

Although she has created her "own newspaper" in the form of a global Twitter feed from 70 of her favourite journalists, Salzman remains a great admirer of the "portability" of the printed product; she buys a broadsheet, a tabloid and a local paper every day.

"As long as there are commuters, there will be morning newspapers. I don't see the Kindle [an electronic reader] replacing newspapers." For one thing, the restaurant reviews and advertising that she absorbs in the local Stamford Advocate, "I'm never going to find via the Kindle. I look for local sales and local ideas. To me, local is the new global," she says.

Digital technology, she believes, will help create a less London-centric Britain. "Second and third cities [can] really take off; any city with an educational hub, an airport or a boat port, an immigrant culture and financial incentives for businesses. You will see people hunker down and stay local and bring the rest of the world to them digitally."

When she reads papers, Salzman tears out stories that hint at future trends, noting key words and running them through Factiva, the Dow Jones research service. Contrary to what some people may think, the demand for news, she argues, has never been greater. "A strong news organisation has extraordinary relevance. Politics has become pop culture and governing has become more relevant to people. In the Western world people have become more interested in social issues than they have been in decades." Genuinely "cerebral" media will find an audience, and there will be a hunger for independent reporting, but obvious vehicles for luxury advertising will find revenues drying up.

Salzman is not optimistic about commercial television, claiming it is insufficiently targeted to satisfy advertisers. "Broadcast is going to be the most irrelevant thing as we know it," she says. "What's going to stay on the air is going to have low ratings."

The answer to monetising media is in "contextual commerce", she says. So when you read an article or watch a piece of video about Bruce Springsteen, you can buy a ticket at the same time, or purchase The Boss's music. "That's where there's going to be money. That's the opposite of what Murdoch is trying to do. If he puts up so many gateways, nobody will bother to shop with him."

Those who work in creative advertising will have to beware online developments such as, which allow clients to make commercials without using a professional agency. "You can make your own ads for $4,500 and do your media buying through the internet. You could be any company from the local dry cleaners to a political campaign and the ads are pretty good quality."

Salzman herself abandoned conventional advertising and moved into a public relations role, partly as a result of her success in 2002 of promoting the concept of the metrosexual (a term originally coined by British journalist Mark Simpson in 1994). "We had no budget and made the whole world listen. I couldn't have done that with an ad. Never in my career had I been associated with an ad that got so much conversation going."

She is conscious that, had she been championing metrosexuality in the era of Twitter, she may have had a rougher ride. "Instead of bubbling up to the surface over a couple of weeks, it might have exploded like a nuclear bomb," she says. "It would have been to easy for it to have been hijacked and reoriented in 140 characters."

Nonetheless, she says instant messaging, despite her initial misgivings, is here to stay. Facebook, which she once thought was "a hook-up service for Ivy League kids who wanted to get laid in other schools" is now "entrenched in life". "I have a chart that I'm presenting tomorrow in Paris which says that, if Facebook was a country, it would be the fifth largest in the world in terms of population."

Salzman is less complimentary about Google, which she says has an image problem.

"I think we all have to be a little afraid of Google. It has become what Bill Gates used to be, this Big Brother figure. I almost hope that Yahoo rebounds, just so that there's an alternative to Google."

In 2010, consumers will go online to obtain almost everything, she believes, even partners. Whereas online dating was once considered dangerous, "we are going to flip-flop that and say 'You didn't do your homework. How could you be so irresponsible to just go and meet somebody?'"

Many of us will be so attached to the 24-7 output of our mobiles that we will be barely able to abandon them for sleep. "That's going to be their most intimate relationship," says Sulzman. There'll also be a flip-flop, or indeed flip-flops, for that rather sad scenario. "I think we are going to see people paying a premium to go to spaces where the technology is all totally turned off," says the futurist. "You're going to see people go to these media-free resorts."

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