Tech uncertainty dominated Quebec ad world in 2000

Despite the ride that saw the technology laced NASDAQ index close last week at 2407.65, 53.1 per cent off its 52-week high, information and communications issues dominated the attention of local marketers last year.

Two anecdotes come to mind that illustrate the difficulty that the Quebec ad industry -- which continues to lag the rest of Canada and the U.S. -- is having adjusting to the Internet economy.

The first occurred at a luncheon conference sponsored by the Publicité Club de Montréal, which dealt with how Quebec companies were responding to the advent of the Net. The roughly 300 participants were, by and large, a baby-boomer, suit-and-tie group.

Many were from the agency side of the advertising business, where a good part of revenues come from either designing, writing or producing ads or selling commercial time for television networks.

The notably exception was a panelist from one of Quebec's growing interactive advertising firms. His pink hair -- arranged in spikes, his short, frightfully skinny physique, and thick glasses combined to make "Spike" (I never got his name), look much younger than he actually was - probably in his mid twenties.

The discussion turned to how the advent of the Net would affect television audiences and Spike was asked his opinion. "I can't really comment," he said. "I don't have a television."

The room dropped dead silent for a couple of seconds as 300 people, who make their living from television contemplated what this creature - who few could related to - was telling them: the Internet is going to draw many teenagers away from the tube. After a few nervous chuckles, the discussion moved on to other things and no one ever responded to Spike's assertion.

Although studies have since come out dealing with the subject, their conclusions are generally directly tied to who paid for the report. Pro-broadcast industry reports claim that television audiences are stable, and pro-Net groups claiming the medium is cutting into teenager's TV time. Marketers are caught in the middle not knowing whom to believe. But the uneasy silence following Spike's comments, was a vivid demonstration of how uneasy many local marketers feel about Net issues.

The second anecdote concerns Pierre Ladouceur, vice-president (marketing and sales) of the Montreal Canadiens, who in December, told members of the Montreal Marketing Association that "the Internet has huge potential for hockey." He then forecast that combined Internet revenues for the NHL, will be double that of television and radio revenues within three years.

It was an incredible assertion. Even the most aggressive Net boosters such as Forrester Research and Jupiter Communications don't forecast Net ad revenues even equaling television revenues, let alone doubling them.

Under heavy questioning in a media scrum following the presentation, Ladouceur initially repeated his assertions, but then, realizing he was on shaky ground he backtracked adding that his forecast was based on "what the NHL told us."

It should come as no surprise that the Montreal Canadiens' marketing VP would want to boost public expectations about their revenue potential, especially since the team is up for sale.

But the fact that the Ladouceur could get away with making such wild predictions, is an indication of how unsure everyone is about the Internet economy, including the journalists who cover it, few of whom filed reports on the subject.

In the case of Quebec companies, their slowness to invest in many technology startup ideas turns out to not have been such a bad move. Many American investors have been burned, by investing millions, in marketing schemes such as Pets.com and Priceline.com. Numerous closures and layoffs have resulted.

On the other hand, Quebec companies missed both the expansion and bust seen by U.S. firms. By all appearances it hasn't cost them many customers. Quebec francophones were also slow to get online. Even as they log on, there is every indication that like the television shows they watch and the music they listen to, much of what they buy online will be from local companies.

Quebec firms are slowly following their clients online with the benefit of learning from the mistakes made by their southern neighbors. While they may have missed an entire business cycle, they seem to have emerged unscathed.

Despite the cooled expectations tech will continue to dominate local marketer's agenda's for 2001. Because even though many dodged a bullet by waiting to act, few will want to chance it again.

 

E-mail can be sent to Diekmeyer at: peter@peterdiekmeyer.com

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