All change (or maybe not)

About once a week, the news media runs a story about how some fundamental aspect of life as we know it is about to change.  Typically, the headlines lead us to believe that within a very short time – perhaps the next year or so – we will all be doing X.  Or Y.  Or possibly Z.

For the sensation-seeking media it is fortunate that readers and viewers have short memories.  A couple of years down the road, not one in a hundred of these predictions will have come to pass.

As a young writer, I used to write copy for a leading clothing brand.  Twice a year, an art director and I would spend a day or two at the clothier’s trade showrooms.  There we would be introduced to the next big thing in pants and shirts and sweaters and jackets.

As part of our visit, we used to get a briefing from each of the divisional merchandise directors.  These guys were gods.  They spent half of their time travelling around the world, attending trade shows and such.  The other half they spent wining and dining people from the major retail groups.  If anyone knew what we were all going to be wearing in 12 months’ time, it was these guys.

And they did often get it right.  But they also got it wrong from time to time.

At one of the semi-annual briefings we were assured that, the following winter, everyone would be wearing a rather murky brown colour called gunstock.  Hardly anyone did.

On another occasion, we were assured that men were about to flock to business shirts with three-quarter length sleeves.  Few (if any) did.

But the really earth-shattering revelation occurred when the divisional merchandise director in charge of men’s pants announced that jeans were dead.  ‘You – and millions of others – have purchased your last pair of jeans,’ he said.

Jeans – both fashion jeans and everyday jeans – had been a big part of the company’s business for many years.  But in the following season’s range there would not be a single pair.  It was a pity.  In the year that jeans were predicted to die, men and women bought more jeans than ever before.  (But not our client’s jeans of course.)

As Mark Twain once noted: ‘The art of prophecy is very difficult – especially with respect to the future’.  But can it be that hard for editors to occasionally ask themselves: Does this ‘forecast’ change seem even remotely likely?

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