I admit, I've always had a certain fascination with fortune telling. Could be because I grew up relatively close to Cassadaga, which, in addition to being a B-side by Tom Petty and a CD by Bright Eyes, is a cool little Central Florida town filled with psychics. Fun to go there on Halloween as a teenager and get creeped out.
Or it just could be I'm like everyone else in the world, throughout history, in most every culture it seems -- and figure it'd be danged useful to know exactly what's coming, if at all possible. Gypsies read tea leaves and crystal balls, psychics use tarot cards, hoodoo conjure men read playing cards, voodoo mambos read bones and candles, santeros read cowrie shells and dominoes, trippy Nordic witches use runes, and the rest of us read the daily horoscope, fortune cookies (adding, "in bed"), play Ouija boards, or put quarters into the magic machines on the boardwalk. All good fun, I suppose. Except the future has this nasty habit of doing things that elude the predictions of even the most practiced predictors. Even Toffler misses. Gibson, too. (Nobody living on that Bay Bridge yet, far as I can tell, though there are buzz agencies and there is a 2nd Life. Kind of.)
Advertising is full of conjure. We like to assign stats to it, though. Analytics of past trends and past performance to predict future results, observation of emerging trends by armies of trendwatchers, studied analysis from this expert and that, poring through last year's Cannes reel or CA -- trendwatching.com; Faith Popcorn, etc. etc. All to try to get a handle on what's next.
By the lead-in, one might think I'm about to argue against all that. But I'm not. Because ultimately, it's all quite useful. Extremely useful, actually, is a better descriptor. Not to mention, completely fascinating. Way better than a Ouija board. There are so many ways to show what people actually do with your messages now (especially on the web) that usage patterns are more fun to look at, and create more possibilities in your mind, than any lava lamp or laser show ever could. By all means, use everything at your disposal. As long as (ok, here it is...) your application of the information you gather takes a couple or three, or, well, four, things into consideration:
(1) You know too much. If you're really, really up on emerging trends, and especially if you're using them to shape your work, you'll probably think something is old before it is. And you'll definitely like something new before anyone else has ever seen it. (This just happened to us with a design -- client thought it wasn't current when, in fact, it was actually too far ahead of the curve for them. Hurts when that happens. Hurts more when it's the audience, instead of the client.)
(2) Numbers aren't creative. Predictions based on stats usually produce formula. Because it's hard to make stats take into account the unbelievable power, and unpredictable nature, of a story that resonates. And it's impossible to make stats alone produce one.
(3) Change is lightning. There's a really good chance, especially now, that all the past stats you just used to make the future prediction can be rendered irrelevant by something that pops up out of the blue. There's so much developing, there's no way to see it all coming. That's the bad news. The good news, however, is that along with lightning change comes lightning response times. So if you predict wrong, you can change it to right real quick.
(4) Change is constant lightning. It's not going to stop anytime soon. Seth coined it, I think, and I've said it before: The only thing you can count on is change.
If your conjuring comes up with something good, by all means, use it. Use it quickly.
Just don't carve it in stone.