Destination Unknown

Trendscape 2004
By Michael Tchong
102pp. San Francisco: Trendscape. $360.

It’s always difficult to spot a trend. What seems obvious once everyone’s doing it is remarkably elusive during the nascent stage. The daily chaos of experience often does not leave time for thoughtful reflection, and even the best businesspeople can drown in a sea of data.

Thankfully, there are professionals who keep their finger on the pulse of civilization and take the larger view. Michael Tchong, always an interesting speaker and perennial man-about-the-Web, has collected the results of his annual dissection of the cultural landscape in Trendscape 2004. The results make for fascinating reading.

Commenting on everything from drugs, in a chapter entitled “Generation X-tasy,” to nudity in “Porno Chic,” Tchong gives the reader an unvarnished look at everything under the sun. This is probably one of the few trend reports you may find that comes with an adult warning. While such things are undoubtedly captivating, Trendscape really piques the interest when it touches on topics like marketing.

In an excellent section discussing online marketing, Trendscape bluntly sums up the situation. While the amount of money spent advertising online continues to increase every year, the heady days of unrestrained exuberance are clearly gone. Pulling no punches, Tchong quips, “online marketing remains just an exciting vision.” Even online marketing darlings are not spared as Tchong wisely notes that until an effective “spamicide” is found, the bloom is off the email marketing rose. Better candid than unrealistic.

No dull white paper, Trendscape takes great pains to include photographs, tables and graphs that greatly aid the reader. A comprehensive collection of resources is collected at the end to facilitate further inquiry on a particular topic. Add to that a helpful glossary and Trendscape makes for a nifty reference tool.

The frustrating thing about any trend report is it often raises more questions than it answers. Predicting the future is often foolhardy, but it would be nice if someone could at least look a few steps ahead and prognosticate a bit. If, as Tchong suggests, marketing is “morphing from hardball, in-your-face selling” to “street-team marketing,” what does that portend? Should we skip the sales force and just hire shills?

We’ll have to buy the next Trendscape report to find out.

Jonathan Jackson is an independent consultant based in New York City. He has written extensively on internet advertising and email marketing since the inception of the internet. A frequent guest speaker, Jonathan has addressed global audiences on marketing and advertising topics and also teaches marketing at colleges around the world.

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