There are many different signals which can herald the start of the next recession.
The analysts are hard at work probing the entrails of the Asia-Pacific rim for the causes of the collapse of the Tiger economies. The economically literate among us will be studying previous recessions for the tell-tale warning signs and the breaking point where high interest rates plunge us into the void.
Me? I look at the adverts in the trade press. As soon as I see scantily clad women I know things are getting worse and we are hurtling towards a downturn. The advertising pages of some publications have recently started to look like mini-versions of Loaded and Maxim. At first, they teetered on the edge of bad taste - just like the old mainframe adverts that showed a dull grey box with a bikini-wearing woman draped over the edge. Then we saw the recent advert for a PC manufacturer with a young lady disporting far too much cleavage to be what she was supposed to be - a businesswoman.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has been working overtime recently to deal with the numbers of complaints about misleading IT advertisements. As we report on page 18, it has told six companies in a two-week period in June to either conclusively prove their advertising claims or pull their adverts. It seems to point to a slow sales period - maybe it's the traditionally slow summer kicking in early. Or it could point to something more organic.
In such a crowded market as IT, the perceived wisdom of the big-hitting marketing professionals has been that advertising is only one part, albeit the main one for most vendors, of the marketing mix. So when advertising reaches so far down the evolutionary trail as to appear like early versions of Playboy, there has to be a good reason for it.
According to the ASA, complaints about computer product advertising are increasing. Cut-throat competition is only partly to blame. When big retailers, such as Dixons, are habitually scanning the adverts of the competition to take action when they go over the limits of pure hard advertising selling, we have reached a new plateau in paranoia. If you are selling the cheapest, fastest, the most features in one box type of goods, then life is set to get tougher.
TAG PC Technology was brought to book by Dixons for placing the VAT figure too far from the price, thus potentially misleading customers into thinking they could get the unit for less than #1,000. In these days of the internet, hardware has to perform at optimum speeds with maximum storage capabilities. And software has to be sold at almost giveaway prices.
It is interesting that few of the complaints come from within the industry itself. There is no great rush of IT managers or resellers running to the phone to complain when a scantily-clothed woman appears in the pages of their favourite trade paper. Either they are too busy to complain or they just do not care.
It's probably over-work that keeps most resellers quiet and that is understandable.
But if vendors want to keep key resellers, it might be very prudent to keep advertising claims the right side of accurate. An ASA decision may be one ruling too far for a potential customer.
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