Marketers are forgetting basics in rush to embrace digital and data, says WFA president

David Wheldon

David Wheldon

Brands are getting too distracted by new tools and the digital and data play, and are in danger of overlooking the fundamentals of marketing, the president of the World Federation of Advertisers has said.

Talking to delegates at a WFA conference in Kuala Lumpur, David Wheldon, CMO of RBS and head of the WFA, said that marketers should stop believing that the definition of marketing has changed ever though the industry is going through radical upheaval.

“Once you think the definition of marketing has changed – you are already on the way to killing marketing,” he told his audience in KL.

“To the companies and boards who are winding down the marketing function whilst ramping up the digital and data units… I say be careful. You are confusing what marketing is about with the tools, channels and feedback loops to do it,” he said.

Wheldon stressed the implications of the rise of ad blocking, saying that the industry risked committing collective suicide by pushing consumers to use ad blocking technology.

“This is a serious concern because our behaviour is actively encouraging this response. Everyone is creating content, flooding the digital landscape with branded messages. The noise of our clutter is becoming deafening,” he said.

“We need to be wary that our messages can be annoying, repetitive and intrusive. There’s a lot of noise out there and it’s not about who’s shouting loudest.”

“We’ve all – agencies, publishers and brands – encouraged users to want something for nothing: access to great content without having to pay for it, directly or via advertising. Without direct payment or ad-funded the quality of content will diminish. At the same time we need to raise our own standards – the quality of what is being produced as ads is in our own hands. It needs to improve,” he said.

In a speech that touched on the mistakes that marketers are making, Wheldon also highlighted a lack of focus on the consumer, and the belief that the answer to everything is branded content.

In his role at RBS, Wheldon has not invested heavily in branded content or even digital, but on internal communication.

He explained: “Now my job is to restore people’s trust in the brand, which in large part still belongs to the British taxpayer. I’m not rushing to spend money on digital media. I’m starting with the people that RBS employs. Those same people who saw it rise from being a provincial Scottish bank to one of the world’s biggest companies then witness its fall and the ensuing government bailout.”

Marketing has a future if the focus is on the consumer, and brands can entertain and inspire, he said.

“Brands need to act and think like people. In my experience, the people I’ve most admired have a number of traits in common: they are passionate and entertaining, they have a point of view, they show empathy, they are open and transparent in their dealings. Most importantly, you know you can trust them.”

“The successful brands of the future will be those that most effectively embrace these characteristics,” he said.

For the full speech, click here.


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