BT and RBS on why marketers should kill off the word ‘digital’

Both brands believe marketers need to stop prioritising the word ‘digital’ as it negatively impacts transparency as well as great advertising.

BT’s top marketer has called for marketers to stop using the word ‘digital’. Speaking on a Marketing Society panel at Advertising Week Europe yesterday (22 March), its chief brand and marketing officer Zaid Al-Qassab claimed that by prioritising digital, marketers only weaken their advertising and chase all the wrong metrics.

“We need to stop saying the word digital. When marketing was growing in the first half of the 20th century, particularly around print, we didn’t call them paper marketers did we? The word just has nothing to do with consumers,” he explained.

“Inside a corporation, the word digital drives people to look at all the wrong metrics such as cost-per-click and likes. They over-invest in digital and forget their message.”

READ MORE: Ashley Friedlein: We need to agree as an industry about the ‘death’ of digital

In particular, Al-Qassab believes the race to be ‘digital-first’ has hampered brands in their quest to properly target customers.

He added: “A so-called digital marketer has 300 different social ideas even if their target audience spends their lives watching TV. We need to ban the word digital and go back to the good old days of talking about who our target audience is.”

His comments align with Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson, who previously claimed the phrase ‘digital marketing’ has gone the same way as ‘international marketing’ – into “obsolescence”.

Also speaking on the panel was David Wheldon, chief marketing officer at RBS, who said the rise of digital marketing had been an excuse for less transparency.

READ MORE: ‘We f*cked up’ admits RBS Group CMO as it ‘presses reset’ on NatWest

Referencing Google’s current predicament, Wheldon said: “Digital seems to equate to not being transparent. From a customer point of view, RBS has to be completely transparent. We can’t charge you unnecessarily and we need to be held to account for our actions on a daily basis.

“It’s about time other parts of the advertising ecosystem were held to account in the same fashion.”

BT’s Al-Qassab also spoke of the challenge many brands now have in terms of juggling so many different advertising agencies.

He concluded: “Digital means a brand could now work with dozens of ad agencies [simultaneously] even though all these agencies want to do is steal business from one another. The client has to act as the conductor but that in itself is very difficult as the reality is no agency wants to work with another.”

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  • Scott Brant 30 Mar 2017 at 2:15 pm

    I couldn’t disagree more with their opinions on this. This is a typical big corporation attitude. What about the thousands and thousands of SMEs who still have no ‘digital’ presence and are just dipping their toe in the water? They have only just started to realise the power of digital. Perhaps digital was not the best word to adopt originally, maybe ‘online’ marketing would have been more appropriate, but ‘digital marketing’ is becoming more widely recognised thanks to various government schemes and awareness campaigns such as ‘Do It Digital’ and the numerous Digital Enterprise Growth Voucher schemes available to SMEs around the country. Two men’s mission to change it now isn’t going to help matters – it will only confuse those who have just started to embrace digital.

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