Straws in the wind. What do you think the future will be like, she asked.

I recently spent a few hours with a one of my “occasional friends.” You know the type. Somebody you like quite a bit, have a lot in common with, but for one reason or another don’t get to see that often. During that visit, we got to speculating about what the future holds.

I had just finished a three hour marathon ‘catch up’ session of a week-long accumulation of my newspaper addiction (in which the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are prominently featured). No doubt I was heavily influenced by my recent readings.

Here’s what I think the next few years will be like in two words: the sixties.

Few people will be wealthy. More and more people will learn to “make do.” The stock market will be moribund. The number of people who work for real estate brokers, builders, mortgage brokers will shrivel into mere shadows.

More people will drop out of the economy and ‘live off the land’, or whatever the 21st century equivalent will be.

Life as we know it, including the daily newspaper, is simply going away, taking many of our cherished aspirations with it. For example, retiring at 65, living 6 months of the year at the beach and traveling the other 6, is not going to happen for 99% of the population.  Working longer, much longer, into our 80s perhaps, will be a fact of life.  In fact, the definition of “retired” will change drastically.  Even Webster’s will notice.

And, it may become even grimmer. One real casualty will be living to a ripe old age. It’s not likely we can afford for millions of us in the US to live into our 80s, much less 90s. Why not? Because it simply will become uneconomic to spend the money it takes to keep old people alive. It will be a Darwinian decision in economic terms: who will get the lion’s share of resources? People who have 15 years to live, or, those who have the potential to live 30, 40 or 50 years? You may not like the answer, especially if you’re older than 65, but, as you are soon to discover, what old people like, will increasingly matter less and less.  The economy will make it so.

The implications of all this are huge. People like me who do marketing for a living are going to have a big job on our hands. First of all, we have to convince our clients that the world has changed. It’s a done deal. Things simply are not going back to the way they were for the past twenty years.

Next, we’re going to have to help them reinvent their company and their products so that they are relevant to the way people will be living … in the new sixties.  If you’re in the banking business, I think you have to concentrate on making it easier and more rewarding for people to SAVE money.  You’re going to need no-nonsense, no-frills products that COST LESS.  You’ll need to lower your costs to acquire deposits by using the Internet.  Ditto delivering loan products.  People will be willing to give up some warm and fuzzy time with your bankers in return for a product that costs less.

Despite the jolting changes that are coming, remember this:  Hard times produce the need for escape.  A need for hope.  Those are times that are tailor made for advertising, which is nothing more than a promise of something better.  The sixties were the golden age for advertising because people needed the promise that things could be better.  The media available for advertising will change.  But the NEED for advertising will not.

And finally, speaking of the sixties, I recommend you download a song from the sixties and listen to it a few dozen times. The song title? Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right. Why you ask, am I telling you to buy and listen to this song? Two reasons: (1) Since we’re headed back to the sixties, I thought this song would be a great theme (positioning statement for you marketing geeks) for the saga we’re all about to embark upon; and (2) the song helps you get your head around the fact that life can be unpredictable and mess with your plans. Don’t let it get to you. When you get nailed, put yourself back together.  Don’t think twice about it, it’s all right. Or, in the words of my occasional friend, “Stop talking.  Stop asking questions.  Just get on with it.”

SIDEBAR: Some of you will remember the song’s author, a Robert Allen Zimmerman, born in Duluth, Minnesota.Mr. Zimmerman, who released this way-cool song in 1963, became one of the most popular singer/song writer/performer (even poet) of all time. You may know him as Bob Dylan.