I have a man-crush. There is no other way to explain it.
There I was, flicking through my copy of Marketing Week and suddenly my heart skipped a beat. There he was, Roel de Vries – the global head of marketing for Nissan, explaining his approach to building the Nissan brand.
It’s the kind of interview you see very frequently in the media and it usually heralds the usual massive bag of bollocks about social media, having conversations with customers and how marketing has changed completely…blah blah blah.
In contrast, de Vries was speaking a different language. There was absolutely no mention of Twitter or Facebook or any other social tools. Instead, he talked simply about something that has been largely ignored in the past few years – integration.
“Everything is digital,” he explained in the interview. “We should not separate, we should integrate. We want to change the perception of our brand but to do that we need to engage, be part of the discussion. To do that, we need to create advertising that makes people sit up, sponsorships that make our brand part of what people care about and digital platforms that people can engage on”.
A deceptively simple story
His argument might look deceptively obvious. But if, like me, you have lived through the last decade of horseshit in which social media has taken a significant and dominant role inside the heads of most marketers and the journalists who cover our discipline – this was manna from heaven.
For starters, de Vries was no longer separating out social from the more traditional channels of digitial communication. This is important because while social media has been getting almost all the publicity in recent years, more effective and better value digitial tools like search optimisation and ecommerce have been largely ignored in the fools-gold rush to increase Facebook likes and Twitter followers.
But even more impressive is the integration idea at the heart of de Vries comments. As you’ll probably be able to tell from my impressive photograph at the top of this page, I come from the Eighties. As a result I like Levi’s jeans, the movies of Kevin Costner and ‘integrated marketing communication’ or, as it became known, IMC.
Eighties-style marketing communications
During the Eighties, the marketing world was riven with internecine battles between ad agencies, PR companies, direct marketing organisations and the growing attraction of many marketers to sales promotions.
Thanks mostly to the work of Don Schultz and the Medill School at Northwestern University, those battles were eventually resolved with a new focus on IMC and associated tools like zero base budgeting and media neutrality.
Clearly, de Vries is well attuned to these topics. “I would not look at percentage of investment going into digital,” he explained last week, “I would look at how much engagement we can make. If we create that through TV commercials that bring people to the conversation or through display advertising, that is great”. Media neutrality at its finest.
The Nineties were a much more progressive period for marketing communications as a result. Then social media came along and a generation of marketers went bananas for it.
They threw away all objectivity and strategic thought and did things that the old school of IMC would have immediately rejected as plain wrong. The minute, for example, a marketing director created a separate budget for social media, they were clearly failing in their marketing duty to compare all possible communication tools, apples to apples.
If more marketers had done that, we would have realised much earlier that social media’s impact and effectiveness was being wildly overstated and that the more traditional media that were being openly sneered at by the new elite, were in fact just as effective as ever.
Can we go back for the future?
Let’s hope Roel de Vries is in the vanguard of a new generation of marketing directors. People who critically assesses all media options side by side and plan their spend accordingly.
Let’s hope we see less of the media bias in which social media gets 50% of the coverage in the trade press despite only securing 10% of the marketing spend.
And let’s also hope for no more conference sessions in which the “social business” is discussed in detail while more traditional and usually superior tools like PR, SEO and radio (yes, radio) are treated as if they are somehow irrelevant to the modern consumer. Back to the future! Mr de Vries, lead the way….