Aggregate demand in the UK looks well-set for the year ahead, although still dependant on the consumer as opposed to the smaller components of investment, government and exports. 74% of the working age population is employed, the highest rate ever recorded, and the working population numbers a record at 31 million. Workers’ real wages are rising and almost restored to their 2008 peak. Energy prices and property wealth are also consumer tailwinds. The headwinds seem to be abating, chiefly the China slowdown, uncertainty about what the government will cut, and immediate interest rate rises. Even the Eurozone is perking up thanks to QE, cheap energy, and a more competitive euro.
Productivity is supposed to be the UK's Achilles’ heel, threatening 1970s torments of stagflation. The problem is actually weighted to certain sectors: oil and gas, which has, understandably, throttled back on investment, particularly in the North Sea; the public sector, where output is approximated by inputs, which have been shrinking; and in finance, more regulated and online-disrupted than ever.
And it depends what base year you pick. Take 2008, and UK productivity is 15% beneath its trend trajectory. Take 2006, and the UK is in line with the global average, and the best in Europe. UK productivity is more of a puzzle than a problem. For now, real wages are rising, but inflation is not. It might if employers bid up labour. Either way, the UK consumer will probably be spending more in 2016.
This new ad forecast raises our prior 2015 forecast a point to 7% on runaway brand demand for digital, and revises 2016 up from 5% to 7%, driven by digital and TV. If correct, this will mean UK ad investment will have outrun GDP growth for five straight years 2012-2016. This is not ‘unhealthy’ inflation caused by rigid supply. It is caused by broad based demand across categories, drawn to favourable reach, impact, audience and innovation. Market efficiency is under intense pressure to improve, for example the ‘value, viewability and verification’ of certain digital inventory.
There are two material changes to our presentation this time. First, we say goodbye to Channel Five as a separate revenue line from 2016, when it disappears into the multichannel total now its airtime is sold by Sky. Second, we remove from internet and put with their parent media, the ad revenues flowing into ‘broadcaster VOD’ and the digital platforms owned by legacy print brands. This obliges us to simplify our presentation of digital, and to rename it ‘pure-play’. These are improvements. No medium needs a reputation for being complicated and exotic.
The influence of digital is everywhere. It is pulling media trading towards a common GRP basis instead of the idiosyncratic variety we have at present. It fuels urgency to discriminate correlation from causality on the path to purchase. It is promulgating automation, modernising commercial relationships and purging sentimentality and irrationality. It is driving demand for better reporting standards. It requires creative to be cheaper, faster-to-market, more informed by intelligence, and available from more sources. Content is rising, because it is suited to a digital culture of browsing, discovery and sharing. It teaches us to put objectives before data, and how to harness individuals at scale. These are rudiments of marketing. The consumer at the centre; building audiences; creating customers.