RBS’ David Wheldon: ‘Marketers, don’t be the dog that barks at every passing car’

RBS CMO David Wheldon has cautioned marketers against jumping on every new trend and tool and advised them to instead focus on the most important aspects of marketing – building and maintaining a distinct brand and understanding the consumer.

Dave Wheldon

Speaking at ISBA’s annual conference yesterday (10 March), Wheldon said marketers have become too obsessed with the newest trends to the detriment of focusing on long-term strategy.

“Every trend in marketing is of course the next big thing. We swing in and out like an accordion. A new marketing mantra comes along like a new religion that we must follow. The age of engagement becomes the age of disruption. Media neutral becomes digital centric. Mobile first becomes omnichannel and so on. Don’t be the dog that barks at every passing car,” he said.

“Let’s be clear, the most important thing in marketing isn’t just to keep up. I know the electric shock therapy that digital, data, social and mobile has thrown at us. But it doesn’t mean we collectively need to put a fork in the marketing toaster.”

He cited research by MediaSense that looked into marketers’ thoughts on what the industry will be like in 2020. That study found that marketers believe the most important issues to deal with will be data analytics and insight, dynamic content development and omnichannel planning.

But Wheldon, who is also president of the World Federation of Advertisers, said they are being used to “peddle a myth” that the role of marketing has changed.

“I Googled ‘Has marketing changed?’. Apparently the things that have changed marketing are the digital revolution, social media, technology and big data, but I disagree. Once you think the definition of marketing has changed you are already on the way to killing it.

“To the companies and boards winding down the marketing function while 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.”

David Wheldon, CMO, RBS

Wheldon believes many marketers have adopted an either/or approach to their work where they pit new against old, digital against traditional and creativity against data. However he said great marketers will be “and/and”, recognising the role that integration, collaboration and listening now play.

He cited the example of a campaign by Metro Trains in Australia, which was looking to promote train safety. It’s ‘Dumb ways to die’ activity has amassed more than 123 million YouTube views and 4.8 million shares, while 65 million people have signed an online pledge to be safe around trains.

The reason for its success, he said, is that it is “based on great consumer insight, outstanding creative execution, is memorably branded and fundamentally focused to deliver business objectives”. Plus “someone had the balls to do it”. He called for more marketers to remember these key tenets of marketing, rather than focusing on making campaigns “massively viral” or trying to appeal to millennials by using digital and social.

“The simple and compelling insight [for ‘Dumb ways to die’] was the simple truth about trains, that they travel in a straight line and it is people’s fault if they get in the way. That is the why. Marketing is about the what and the how, but the really big value is in the why. If marketers protect the why in their role at all costs it is less likely to die,” he said.