The Prediction Business

by Mark Tungate , MAYDREAM

At the start of a new year, a few predictable things happen: gym memberships go up, sales of alcohol and unhealthy foods go down – and various experts start making predictions. Forecasting has become an industry, supported by marketers and retailers who need to stay ahead of consumer trends.

Like everything else, forecasting has been digitized. A notable organisation called WGSN.com (the Worth Global Style Network, founded by brothers Marc and Julian Worth) has made a fortune keeping the fashion industry informed about what’s around the corner. Fashion’s hunger for the next big thing was satirized last year by underwear brand Fruit of the Loom, which created a fake trend. 

Once the exclusive domain of journalists and trend trackers, forecasting has now been democratised. Late last year, the website Cult of Mac reported on prediction apps that help you “show off your inner Nostradamus.” These include Called It and Sage, which enable you to share predictions in return from votes from your friends and points for accuracy.

The problem is, of course, that the future has a habit of surprising you. This is the famous Black Swan theory, developed in the book of the same name by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a risk analyst. A Black Swan is an entirely unexpected event that changes everything (a natural disaster, for example).

Nevertheless, human beings seem to have an innate need to predict the future, even relying on animals to do so. Here’s what happened when Samsung and DDB Stockholm teamed up with a harbour seal called Orange, who can see into the future. Maybe. 

Perhaps unhappy with the seal’s predictions, Samsung turned its attention to astronomer Michael Lutin, who was also challenged to make predictions about its latest phone. There’s still an element of satire, but Lutin is a genuine forecaster, with a column in Vanity Fair magazine. 

In the third part of the campaign, Samsung teamed up with psychic Barbara Mackey, who revealed an uncanny knowledge of mobile phone technology. 

 

Samsung and DDB are by no means the first to use real life forecasters for advertising purposes. Back in 2011, Leo Burnett and Switzerland Tourism turned to genuine “weather prophet” Martin Horat to predict the climate for the season to come. Those with a fear of insects should not watch the next spot. 

All very amusing. But good predictions can lead to hard cash. A quick Google search turns up a number of prediction trackers for those who bet on horses, major sports events – and the stock market. On a whole other level, in 2014 Microsoft launched its Prediction Labs, an interactive platform showcasing “a new kind of data-driven predictive methodology.” It displays predictions ranging “from sports and entertainment to politics and economics.” Here’s a great interview with founder David Rothschild

The Edward Snowden revelations gave data a bad name, so perhaps telling people it may help them win bets might rehabilitate its image. We wouldn’t bet on it though. And in case you’re still tempted to make a wager, listen to what this woman has to say. Because the future doesn’t always work in your favour. 

 

 

Photo via David Lofink.