Future Shock

By Lawrence Goodman / March / April 2007
March 23rd, 2007

Please don’t call Marian Salzman ’80 a fortuneteller, soothsayer, or prophet. “It makes me feel like a tarot reader with a fancy degree,” she says. The New York–based advertising executive prefers “trend spotter” or, even better, “long-range strategic planner.”

No matter what you call her, though, Salzman, executive vice-president and chief marketing officer of the J. Walter Thompson (JWT) ad agency, does make her living by predicting the future. She is routinely described as one of the “world’s leading futurists” and early on in her career, when she worked at the Amsterdam-based BWA International, she held the title of “Worldwide Director, Department of the Future.”

Her stellar reputation comes from having foretold the rise of the “metrosexual” (men who like to shop and dress-up), “wiggers” (white suburban teens who behave like young, urban African-Americans), and the “yummy mummy” (stay-at-home moms who shop and pamper themselves while viewing parenting as a part-time commitment).

She has also predicted in the past that sleep would become more important to Americans than sex, and “millennium blue” would become a superhot color.

But again, says Salzman, it’s not as though she gazes into a crystal ball or has psychic powers. “I roll up my sleeves and look for bizarre statistical aberrations” in marketing data, she says. “I simply have one more better question than my competitors.”

So what does this prophetess—err, strategic planner—say will be the next big thing? For starters, she says our homes will start getting smaller. “There is going to be a push back against the American McMansion,” she predicts. It will become common for even wealthy families to live in houses with a mere 1,600 to 2,400 square feet, roughly one-fifth the size of many McMansions. Salzman cites as reasons rising fuel costs—who can afford to heat such behemoths?—as well as the influence of Scandinavian design, which she says is putting more emphasis on so-called smart spaces, where “every inch of space is used smartly.” Tables and counters, for example, are on wheels so they can be moved around and the kitchen transformed into a family room or home office.

Salzman also predicts the return of arranged marriages—not the kind where a woman’s family ponies up a dowry, but situations where “those that you care about choose a partner for you that fits into their community.” She says this is already happening on dating Web sites where friends and family come together and help someone they know find a date. She also points out that marriage brokers are becoming more and more popular.

Salzman helped put herself through Brown by working as a maid and waitress. At age 30, she started the world’s first online market research company, Cyberdialogue. About a third of her time now is spent traveling between the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, and in her latest travels, on behalf of Estee Lauder, she surveyed women around the world to see how they feel about skin care.

She is also conducting extensive marketing studies among Muslims in America. This population, which numbers around two million people, is, Salzman says, greatly underserved. “Muslims are not comfortable navigating their way through our consumer landscape,” she says. “We’re really trying to go back to basics and figure out what they want.”

—Lawrence Goodman

What do you think?
See what other readers are saying about this article and add your voice. 
Related Issue
March / April 2007