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“Never make predictions, especially about the future.” — Casey Stengel, baseball player/manager.
I recently wrote not one but two articles predicting the future of marketing. I am, apparently, a glutton for punishment. Not because they weren’t fun to write, but because wrong predictions have a notoriously long shelf-life. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, for example, probably regrets the day he told USA Today (back in 2007) that “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.” Oops.
The fact is that even very smart people don’t always have brilliant insight into the future. To prove that point, here are some famously bad predictions by some pretty famous people…with links to my predictions at the end of this post.
“I predict the Internet will soon go supernova and in 1996 will catastrophically collapse.”
That was the opinion of Robert Metcalfe, one of the pioneers of the Internet, at the close of 1995. In his defense, this was back in the days when American Online was still charging for Internet access by the hour. Maybe he should have predicted their collapse.
“The idea of a personal communicator in every pocket is a pipe dream driven by greed.”
Former Intel CEO Andy Grove made this observation back in 1992, and while greed hasn’t changed significantly since then, our personal communicators certainly have. Just ask Steve Ballmer.
“Television won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”
Movie mogul Darryl Zanuck made this prediction back in 1946, vastly underestimating our capacity to stare at a small, glowing box. I wonder what he would say about reality television?
“Remote shopping, while entirely feasible, will flop because women like to get out of the house, like to handle merchandise, like to be able to change their minds.”
Yikes! This prediction from Time magazine back in 1966 missed the future on several fronts. I’ll bet they’d like to change their minds on this one.
“Rock & roll? It will be gone by June.”
That was the opinion of Variety magazine back in 1955. In January of 1956, Elvis Presley released his first single, “Heartbreak Hotel,” followed by his first album two months later. He was still around by June.
“People won’t want to play these electronic games for more than a week, not once we start selling pinball machines for the home.”
Actually, I’ll cut pinball/arcade game executive Gus Bally some slack here, since in 1979 (when he made this prediction) electronic gaming was pretty much Pong. (Atari didn’t catch on until the following year.) Plus, having a pinball machine in your house is pretty cool.
“Before man reaches the moon, your mail will be delivered within hours from New York to Australia by guided missiles. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.”
Believe it or not, this quote from 1959 comes courtesy of former U.S. Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield. I’ll bet Australia is very happy that rocket mail never took off.
As I said, predicting the future can be a tricky business. Even the best visionaries can be blinded by science – like Thomas Edison’s prediction that nearly everything would be made of gold in the future. If you’re interested in what the future holds for marketing technology, I encourage you to read my article, “Marketing Mind-Blowers for 2020” on ClickZ. I also have an article with more predictions published in MarTech Advisor which you can read here, “Cookies, CDP, and Customer Journeys Dominate the Marketing Landscape.” I make some pretty bold predictions in both articles, so if you agree or disagree, feel free to comment in the article or drop me an email. Just don’t use rocket email.