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David Wheldon

David Wheldon

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Trendsetters: David Wheldon, CMO at RBS, offers a Stern Warning to Marketers throughout the World

David Wheldon boasts a long and varied career in advertising and marketing, and has been witness to numerous trends, shifts and consolidations in the industry over the past several decades. Today, he serves as both the Chief Marketing Officer of RBS (The Royal Bank of Scotland) and the President of the WFA (World Federation of Advertisers). Addressing the WFA's executives from member associations and marketing organizations at the group's annual meeting, held this year in Kuala Lumpur, he offered a stern, yet clear, warning to brands: "Do not lose sight of the marketing basics."

He outlined how marketers are in danger of damaging their profession through a series of collective and individual failures as they try to adapt to a new era. David Wheldon called on brands to focus on the fundamentals, rather than being simply distracted by the newest trends and fads. He conceded that the rush to adapt to digital has caused many marketers to forget the golden rules of their profession.

"Once you think the definition of marketing has changed," he stated, "you are already on the way to killing marketing. 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 added that marketers should be "100% consumer obsessed," and they should stop believing that the answer to everything is branded content.

"Our role as marketers is to provide human understanding: understanding people within our organizations and the people outside our organizations, our customers and potential customers. This fundamental will never change."

David Wheldon also raised the issue of ad blocking, saying that "the industry risked committing collective suicide by pushing consumers to use ad blockers on both mobile and desktop." He continued, "This is a serious concern because our behavior is actively encouraging this response. Everyone is creating content, flooding the digital landscape with branded messages. The noise of our clutter is becoming deafening. 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."

He suggested that the key solutions to the ad-blocking debate involve standardizing and improving the ad experience, while providing consumer education about better quality advertising and greater consumer choice. "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-funding, 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."

In his role as CMO of RBS, David Wheldon admitted that rather than spending on branded content or digital media, he is focusing on the people that the bank employs -- to galvanize the workforce as internal advocates for the brand. "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."

Despite the sharp warning, David Wheldon ended his address by stating that marketing had a great future if marketers took care to create great brands that entertained and inspired in order to change or reinforce behaviors.

"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. These attributes will govern not only how brands communicate and serve their customers. In an increasingly open and transparent world, they will also be the yardstick by which successful corporations will be judged."

David Wheldon has now entered the second year of his two-year term as WFA President. Headquartered in Brussels, The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) champions responsible and effective marketing communications worldwide through a global network of national marketing associations and supporting marketer companies.

The organization's 2017 Global Marketer Week will be held in both Montreal and Toronto in collaboration with the Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA). Global Marketer Week is celebrated in a different city each year, and co-hosted with a member marketing association. The 2016 event was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and past evens were hosted in Marrakech, Sydney, Brussels, New York, Beijing, Istanbul, Sao Paulo/Rio de Janeiro and Mumbai.