The Year in Review: Editor’s Note

This time, the light at the end of the tunnel actually was a light at the end of the tunnel and not an oncoming train.

2003 was a licking-wounds kind of year. We emerged from recession, dazed but not as confused, and able to believe—ever so gingerly—the worst was over. The numbers gave us hope. Beginning in March, the stock market showed more life than it had in two years. Even the normally pessimistic John Perriss of ZenithOptimedia is predicting a 5.1 percent adspend rise in 2004—and his is the least upbeat estimate.

Kicking off this Year in Review issue, Noreen O’Leary goes inside the numbers and behind boardroom doors to see why we’re breathing a little easier, albeit with more caution than during past rebounds. And she probes into some of the issues that affected the advertising industry in the last 12 months.

Of course, the economy wasn’t the whole story. There were legislative battles, management shakeouts and blockbuster reviews. Compensation “re-imaginings,” branded-entertainment forays and struggles among agencies, consultants and media shops for clients’ attention. These stories all demanded our attention this year.

But news is only the first draft of history. Some of it—even that which at first seems transcendent—will fade in importance over time. In our Top 10 Events recap, Catharine P. Taylor sifts through the stories of 2003 to determine what really mattered. Is the fight against spam a Big Deal? What about all those fast-food reviews? Ousters of agency CEOs? Is TiVo the devil, or will we look back and say, “So what”? Should agencies live in fear of procurement departments? Do media shops really want to get into the message business? We tell you what you’ll still be talking about in a few years’ time.

In an expanded Critique, Barbara Lippert looks back on a year of creativity in five key categories: automotive, banking, beer, retail and technology. From miscast singers to lip-syncing thieves, catfights to groovy silhouettes, she celebrates the best and excoriates the worst.

For an industry perspective on two key topics, we turned to agency execs. Top creatives Ron Berger, Cheryl Berman, Kathy Delaney, Lee Garfinkel, Gary Goldsmith, John Hegarty and Michael Patti give us their choices for best and worst ad campaign of 2003. Lee Ann Daly, Carla Hendra, Alan Kalter, Tim Love, Rich Silverstein and Roy Spence predict the most important developments of 2004. You might be surprised at some of the answers.

Finally, Mark Dolliver asks whether America is a polarized culture, and Tim Nudd wraps up the year’s sillier goings-on in Shoptalk.

Whether the worst is truly over, no one knows. But for now, it’s enough to hope—something we haven’t dared to do in a while.

Happy holidays, and here’s to 2004.