The media communication landscape shifts quickly, and emerging trends can be surprisingly fragile when it comes in contact with societal trends, regulations, and competition.
For marketers looking to capitalize on “what’s next,” it’s not an exact science to discern the next MySpace or Napster from the next Facebook or iTunes.
As strategists, we take great pains to offer tested insights into the tools and practices that are effective, right now, for our clients. And while there are times and places where it’s right to swing for the fences with the newest shiny object, it can be edifying—and a bit fun—to see where marketers and captains of industry have gotten it wrong over the years.
Here are some of our favorites:
1. Give Google a year or two.
It’s nearly impossible to imagine a serious conversation about digital marketing strategy that excludes Google. But in Google’s early days, Bill Gates—who made a lot of dead-on predictions about the rise of the Internet—was openly skeptical that the search engine company would last more than a couple of birthdays.
At Davos in 2003, Gates was quoted as saying, “Those Google guys, they want to be billionaires and rock stars and go to conferences and all that. Let us see if they still want to run the business in two to three years.”
Gates wasn’t alone. Money magazine documented a host of Google skeptics—and humbly included its own warning against buying Google stock in 2004.
2. Terrestrial radio should be dead by now.
A decade ago, many prognosticators were high on the notion that terrestrial radio would soon fall in favor of digital play lists, podcasts, and streaming services. Because everyone’s favorite audio entertainment would be available immediately, radio stations were supposed to go belly-up one-by-one until the medium became a quaint novelty.
Today, as those who advertise in the medium know, terrestrial radio is still soldiering on strongly, and still offering a healthy ROI for those who use it properly. In 2021, National Public Media research showed that 63 percent of U.S. adults still listen to terrestrial radio, and nearly half of them say they’ve allowed radio ads to influence their buying decisions.
3. The iPhone will flop.
Perhaps it’s unfair to keep picking on Microsoft, but its then-CEO, Steve Ballmer, famously scoffed at the iPhone’s $500 price tag and lack of keyboard when the first generation of the device was introduced in 2007. At the time, Microsoft’s own handset was $99.
Ballmer eventually—and sensibly—admitted he misjudged the market and gave Apple credit for nailing the model of subsidizing phones through carriers.
This year, the iPhone is grabbing more than 50 percent of market share in the United States.
4. The Internet? A fad.
This was a biggie. Robert Metcalfe, the inventor of ethernet, wrote in 1995, "I predict the Internet… will soon go spectacularly supernova and in 1996 catastrophically collapse."
To his credit, Metcalfe ate his words 22 years later. Literally. At a 2017 conference, he put his article into a blender with some water and ate the pasty concoction with a spoon. Yuck.
5. People will tire quickly of television.
Lest we think all comically bad predictions occurred in our lifetimes, people were getting media wrong when video technology itself was new.
In 1946, Darryle Zanuck, a movie producing legend with 20th Century Fox, predicted that television would fail to retain any meaningful market share because “people will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”
Try to imagine a media landscape in which these predictions were accurate. Hard, right? But marketing is often about predictions – whether it’s the assumption that past performance will be indicative of future results, or taking a roll of the dice on something new.
It can at least be comforting to know that media industry trailblazers can be just as wrong as today’s marketer trying to make the most of her precious, finite media budget.
If you’re faced with a media decision, we’d love to help you make the right predictions. See how ddm’s strategic approach to media can benefit you.