It's that time of year. Time for predictions and deep soul searching as to what we screwed up and what we could be doing better. Here is our look into 2006. Not predictions, but rather topics that we feel will certainly be top of mind.
1. Fixing the USA Brand
Let's start with a big one. Without a doubt this has been a truly horrific year for the way the world views the USA. New White House appointments and global tours by the likes of Karen Hughes and Condi Rice have actually made the problem worse. This is something that really needs fixing. Not for the knee-jerk liberal reasons - but because the global marketplace is shoring up alliances like kids on a playground - and we are looking very alone. Friends like Mongolia do little for growing US interests abroad. We need to fix this fast or we have less people to sell stuff to and less people to make stuff with.
3. Cola Wars
Pepsi and Coke are losing market share to bottled water and performance drinks. Coke has announced a new positioning that promises to evolve over the year with expanded use of the Internet as a communication tool to reach younger people. New hybrid drink concoctions are planned with the cross hairs directed squarely at coffee and sports drinks. It will be an interesting year. Let's hope the advertising rises to the challenge.
2. Developing new VOD models
The flurry of VOD options are becoming dizzying. Sponsorships are already surfacing. It is hard to make sense of what is available as content companies unload their wares into this emerging platform. The real challenge will be to find innovative ways to bundle this content so it is easier to find and connects with the right audiences. Networks may begin to see the potential of soft launching programming within content niches to build an audience for broader development--soft launches that offer further sponsorship opportunities to fuel content development and niche brand positioning. The big thing to realize here is that we need to throw out all our old ways of thinking about how content is distributed and how TV shows build audiences. VOD has the potential to give the networks some reassurance if they use it well. I can't help but think of the early predictions of the demise of "The Office". The show has now become a Thursday block with "My Name is Earl". The core fan base has driven the content forward - and hopefully this will help kill future contrived development deals like spin-off "Joey". Safe is not a strategy. Pay per-show is not a strategy. Time to take it up a notch.
4. Playstation vs. Xbox
Japanese consumers aren't buying into the XBox 360 buzz. They are holding off for Playstation's next gen PS3. Cult game developer Hideo Kojima's next installment of cult hit Metal Gear Solid will be a core driver for new console sales as well as networked cult classic Unreal. Perhaps that is where Xbox made their fatal mistake - unless you have some killer software, the console can't sell on its own.
The implications for advertising is huge. This is the new battleground for consumer mind-share. We hope agencies won't screw it up too much by making heavy handed plugs within game play. The real successes will be seen in subtle product placements that are aware of what type of players each game attracts. Subtle cultural references that tie to other messaging outside of the game. Think of the surge in machinima - this audience expects particaption and reinforcement of their commentary on the narrative. They are highly tuned to subtle cultural signs and they turn off instantly bogus messaging. Leveraging mobile formats to their strengths will also be key. The game is on. Let's not mess things up.
5. Redefining Creativity in the Agency World
There is a new definition of creative brewing. Copy and design are becoming less and less the dominant skill-sets of our business. Cross-platform contextual experiences are becoming the palette of our business. The duo of designer and copywriter may give way to more hybrid teams of cross-disciplinary skills. Certainly research and strategy will become less a suggestion to the creative voice and rather connective tissue for developing better ideas that evolve over time. Agencies like Naked are hinting at new models and approaches to the creative process. We remain hopeful for this evolution in the biz.
6. Beyond Cool Hunting
Cool hunting is reaching a tipping point - hey there's even a skit on the "Daily Show" that pokes fun of it. It seems every agency has begun to dabble in some way or other in this service du jour. But closer looks at what is being hunted leaves many wondering if it is really helping to generate better ideas - or rather just a collection of personal fetishes. Cool hunters typically are people who are early technology adopters and have particular consumer and media consumption tendencies. This is only one part of the market - they are one mob of influential. Not to say there is anything wrong with these fetish mobs - but where do they fit into the larger picture of our understanding consumers? All consumers - in the context of a fracturing marketplace. How do these trends connect to larger macro trends? How do they move from group to group? What information that is being gathered is simply redundant data? We also need to be thinking about mapping the whole landscape - not just the part that interests one particular trend spotter and one moment in time. The speed of markets makes the information highly volatile to market forces and a growing flooded marketplace. It is like spending the day reading through customer log data - sure it's interesting - but only if you actually use it to do something. The cool hunters will evolve and broaden their line of sight and offer value as part of the research mix - but the cool hunt will need to connect with other formal research methods that allow agencies to get a clear picture of what is going on so they can get ahead of the market to surprise and delight consumers.
9. Red State vs. Blue State (Round Two)
This one is too easy. Mid term elections will drive the same issues and divisions we saw in 2004 - but with considerably more venom and thrashing about. I expect the word nuclear to be overused both in Senate and overseas threats and more analogies with Walmart and Target. Perhaps this could be the year the bubble of our cultural war finally bursts.
10. Playing Catch Up in Thinking Green
Toyota has officially trounced the US competition. The execs in Detroit who scoffed at the idea of hybrid vehicles are kicking themselves and worrying about their pensions because of their short sight. The real issue here is not just about oil though. It's about innovation. We are losing our place as a leader in product innovation. Countries like China are moving to develop alternative energy - not because it is the right thing to do - but rather if they don't their people will have a hard time breathing in the near future. This drive to develop technology could place us in a deeper hole to catch up. The energy race is more than saving the planet from extinction. It is about owning patents to the products (and methods) that people will be using in the next thirty years and beyond.
11. More Food Fights
Childhood obesity and increased health costs of aging Boomers will keep the nation's diet habits top of mind. Someone will suggest yet another revision of the food pyramid.
12. Connecting Retail
It takes a strike at Christmas to wake people up again. Retailers need to get smarter channel strategies going in the year to weather unforeseen blocks to outlets. Shopping online or in the the store should work equally to reward retailers. Partnerships and alliances as well as consumer-driven shopping mobs will heat things up and likely see some retailers close their doors before the next holiday season.
13. Continued Growth in Fairtrade & Organic Products
Fueled by improved economic conditions and the post- 9/11 kid boom. Organic has become the new status symbol for parents. Fairtrade awareness also continues to gain momentum. However, Fairtrade will continue to be a little trickier - due to a lack of enforceable standards. Many large companies are developing fairtrade line extensions that don't always comply with accepted Fairtrade standards.