Note: This was what I had planned to run in this issue before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 rendered it out of date—though as noted in the previous piece, it may not have been as wrong as it looked at first

IT WAS AS UNEXPECTED AS A FASHION POSTER in the grayness of communist-era Albania. A dot-com ad, on the side of a bus... in mid-2001 America. Yes, after eToys and Webvan and Kozmo and all the other high-profile flameouts, there was apparently at least one e-commerce site left that hadn’t burned through all its venture capital, that was still hoping to aggregate eyeballs and grow clicks and, holiest of grails, eventually launch an IPO.

The fact that it struck me so—indeed, that my jaw dropped a few pixels at the sight—prompts a thought. Stock market pundits often observe how curious it is that people who will pay $160 for Cisco during a boom won’t pay $30 for the exact same stock a few months later.

Well, the drop in the stock market has produced the inevitable drop in the advertising market as well. The dot-com advertisers who flooded the airwaves with accordion-playing komodo dragons are as rare as, well, komodo dragons, magazines have gotten as thin as their cover models, and once-inflexible online sites will practically rename themselves for your product to get a few banners. Even mainstream advertisers are tightening belts and trimming budgets in expectation of lean times ahead.

Which to me... looks a lot like not buying at $30 what you recently paid $160 for.

It’s true that some non-necessity categories might find it wise to retrench a little. Vacations may be less lavish, computers and cars may be used a little longer before they’re replaced. But America didn’t remotely go so broke that it’s going to stop buying gourmet ice cream and protein shakes and oil changes and dvds. And by any rational standard, the advertising marketplace has just gotten a whole lot more attractive, now that you’re not competing with a zillion zany dot-coms for the public’s attention.

So why aren’t the guys with underexciting but necessary products racing back in to fill the airwaves with their mundane but undeniably useful USPs? Wouldn’t this be the best possible time to introduce new Tartar Control Pepsi and Heat-Seeking Gleem and Minty-Fresh Raid and Glow-In-The-Dark Turkey Franks?

In fact, I even think it would be a good time to start a dot-com, if you actually had a way of making money—now that you wouldn’t have ten competitors selling at 20% under their cost. So if you have a client thinking about retreating because the market’s bad, try convincing him that in fact, this is the moment to attack. And if he actually goes for it... buy a bunch of his stock. It’s probably pretty cheap right now.

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