THERE MAY BE TROUBLE AHEAD…

Marketing Week looks into its crystal ball. Channel 5 will launch, Labour will win the election and media will go merger mad. But what does 1997 hold for you?

In 1996, the supermarkets went banking; alcopops sent teenagers crazy; CIA almost landed in court; Virgin again threatened legal action – this time against Rory Bremner for his one to one skit – and the average life expectancy of a marketing director in any job slipped to 18 months.

But what’s in store for 1997? Maybe it will be the year that the car industry again talks of selling 2 million cars; the ad industry of recovery; the Conservative Party will tell you that you have never had it so good while Labour promises the earth; the Japanese invasion of fmcg will gather pace; and the second biggest telecoms company in the UK will be born.

Here are some of the events and Marketing Week predictions – among them some long shots – that will shape the coming year.

January

Ad revenues drop as advertisers delay spending decisions ahead of the general election. The exception is the tobacco companies which invest more heavily because they believe May, and a Labour government, could make tobacco advertising a thing of the past.

Cable & Wireless sneaks in the new name for its combined operation – including Mercury and three cable companies – by attaching a sign above its main office, hoping that nobody notices, but somebody does. BT runs concerted ad campaign to strengthen contracts with small businesses. BT’s US consultant Ed Carter starts to take “more of an interest” in the business communications division. The Data Protection Registrar stops British Gas from using its database for anything other than gas matters.

The Sunday and Daily Mirror merge into a seven-day production with Piers Morgan as editor. Western International Media, Europe is formally launched. Parent Interpublic rolls in other media arms Universal McCann and Initiative Media to create a big volume player. Alan Bishop returns from a three-year sojourn in New York to run Saatchi & Saatchi in London.

February

The partners in the Shell consortium come to the end of the second stage of their assessment of the project and announce a third “getting to know you” phase amid rumblings that not all of the partners are convinced by the opportunities on offer. New partners include Barclays and BA. Grey Advertising produces “new” research called Women on the Verge of March exploring women’s inner thoughts about advertising in the springtime. Asda lands in court to defend itself against claims of copycatting brought by United Biscuits. The CBI renews calls for interest rate rises.

Genetically engineered food, from maize to chicory, enters the vast majority of supermarket food without any labelling to warn us, and without any alternatives available. The Monopolies & Mergers Commission orders Bass to sell off 1,000 pubs plus some of its brands before it can take over Carlsberg-Tetley.

The Department of Transport opens an investigation into the falsifying of car sales figures by manufacturers.

March

Channel 5 launches and is panned in the press for its programming – except by the Express Group and the Financial Times (C5 shareholders). The Times breaks the 1 million circulation barrier after being on sale for 2p with free BA tickets for a month. A planned multidenominational ad campaign for Easter is dropped after an unseemly row – and physical violence – between agencies working for the Catholic Church and the evangelical wing of the Methodist Church over which side has the biggest claim on the “Jesus” brand.

Burger King and McDonald’s return to using British beef after the BSE scare. The Office of Fair Trading finally stops sitting on its hands and demands legislation to stop electrical retailers overcharging for, and misleading consumers on, warranty schemes. Tesco links with Granada and its groceries start appearing in motorway service stations. The long-awaited EC report on Commercial Communications is published.

March 31, the restructured Cable & Wireless receives its stock market flotation. Virgin opens its first cosmetics outlet.

April

Two sexual harassment cases against Richard Branson open in the US courts. The outcome will have dramatic impact on Virgin’s US business. John Major announces May 1 as polling day. The Conservative Party immediately announces that if it wins the election it will privatise Channel 4. The station’s “pornographer in chief” (Daily Mail) Michael Grade immediately turns to Labour for support. But the following day the Labour Party ups the ante and says when it wins it will privatise both Channel 4 and the BBC. “Tough on TV that Daily Mail readers don’t like, tough on the causes of TV that Daily Mail readers don’t like,” says Tony Blair.

Political advertising, and the two parties’ agencies – M&C Saatchi and BMP Needham – are condemned by the ASA for using images of relatives of both leaders in “tasteless” ads. But they get away with lying, misleading and bullying the electorate. The Sun refuses to support either party. The Spice Girls split up citing “political differences”.

May

Tony Blair wins the election with a majority of 17. The ad industry declares that it has always supported Labour. Nigel Griffiths MP becomes the people’s consumer champion – his portfolio to include media. Share prices fall through the floor at tobacco companies and the utilities suffer a similar drop as the prospect of windfall tax raises its ugly head. Chancellor Gordon Brown’s first Budget is leaked to the Daily Express but editor Richard Addis refuses to publish. No income tax rises but the utilities are forced to pay back some of their ridiculous profits.

After months of catching rival supermarket Tesco on the back foot, figures from AGB reveal that Sainsbury’s has finally recovered its position as supermarket leader. Figures show BT has spent the first 100m of its bumper 200m ad budget for the year. BA sells the first 50 of the 168 Heathrow slots it has to get rid of, to prevent an MMC inquiry into its alliance with American Airlines. Its rivals scream foul as BA appears to be winning both ways, securing its merger and at the same time receiving millions of pounds for its slots.

June

A spate of copycat rows allows Nigel Griffiths to flex his consumer friendly muscles but details on outlawing copycat brands are less than detailed. In the first week of June, Scottish Courage finally reduces its ad agency roster – something it has been promising to do for 18 months. But by the end of the month it is back up to seven. Procter & Gamble restructures all its divisions for the second time in 12 months, scraps its every day low pricing strategy and increases ad spend.

July

Research shows that consumers cannot tell the difference between car ads. Secret plans for Pepsi to concentrate on its beverages division and sell Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell are revealed in Marketing Week. The company admits it needs to do something to change its fortunes and altering the can colour from blue to turquoise earlier in the year has not worked. The short damp summer does not deter the seemingly unstoppable alcopop success story. The Millennium party is cancelled due to lack of corporate interest.

August

The motor industry gets nostalgic as the last August rush gets underway. Grey updates its research into women’s attitudes to sexism in advertising and palms it off on an all-too-gullible media – Women on the Verge of September is born.

September

BSkyB shows the first pay-per-view live football match. Newcastle United at home to Manchester United – a scoreless draw that costs 2.5 million homes 6.99 to watch. WPP merges the O&M-owned The Network and JWT’s media department. Mandy Pooler becomes managing director. The bubble bursts for alcopops sales – having peaked over the summer with heavy advertising support, alcoholic lemonade starts to lose its fizz.

October

Labour’s first party conference in Government for 19 years hears calls for renationalisation of the utilities, demands for a tightening up on media-ownership laws and the introduction of a minimum wage. All are ignored. The Barclay Brothers buy The Independent for only slightly more than the price of a single copy. BSkyB is given Channel 5. Granada buys YTTV. United News & Media buys HTV, Scottish buys Grampian and Mirror Group buys Scottish.

November

Chancellor Gordon Brown’s second Budget retroactively taxes all media takeovers. Labour peer Clive Hollick at United News & Media is said to be “unhappy” about the tax. Others are more blunt. Nigel Griffiths talks about the need for yet another Broadcasting Bill. On the third anniversary of the Lottery, Camelot picks up the contract to run the South African version.

December

Tesco sticks the proverbial two fingers up at Kellogg and again refuses to change the design of its cereal boxes. Supermarket customers get sick of loyalty cards and go back to Green Shield stamps. Channel 5/BSkyB insists all the retuning will be complete some time in 1998. Grey cancels its research Women on the Verge of next year through lack of interest. BMP chief executive Chris Powell is knighted for services to what used to be called socialism. But Tony Blair fails again in the poll that really counts – the Today programme’s Personality of the Year.

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