David Blecken
May 18, 2018

Time to seek 'Zen-like harmony' in a disrupted industry: WFA president

Highlights from the World Federation of Advertisers' Global Marketing Week in Tokyo, including its president's call for restoring balance in a troubled industry.

David Wheldon, WFA president
David Wheldon, WFA president

The World Federation of Advertisers’ (WFA) Global Marketer Week drew to a close in Tokyo on Thursday with David Wheldon, the organisation’s president, calling for broad improvements to the digital marketing ecosystem.

Following the unveiling of the WFA’s Global Media Charter, Wheldon, who is also CMO of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), said it was “time for us to draw a line in the sand, rebalance the relationship between clients, agencies and media owners and platforms, and restore Zen-like harmony in an industry that has been through real disruption”.

To highlight the loss of balance, Wheldon noted that the Facebook-Google duopoly sucks in a quarter of global marketing spend. “At no time in the history of the industry have two companies had such a dominant position in the ecosystem, and we urge them to take their responsibility seriously and to see that their content is the type of content we can advertise alongside,” he said.

Wheldon added that brands also have a responsibility to step up. He outlined the importance of ensuring advertisers “reward people fairly throughout the ecosystem”, and preventing advertising from “landing in places it shouldn’t”. That means tighter controls on the exposure of advertising for products such as alcohol and certain food products to minors.

Additionally, Wheldon said the WFA was “challenging the supply chain to be more open and transparent” and must ensure “that data usage is respected”. “We as brand owners must collect and use data in the right way but here we’re placing demands on the ecosystem in a way we haven’t done before,” he said. “We think if that’s done we can reach a new dawn because it’s time for change in a sector that’s been through trouble.”

Wheldon said the charter, which outlines eight principles, was a “work in progress”. Borrowing a Japanese proverb (which prime minister Shinzo Abe also used when introducing his ‘Abenomics’ policy), he said “one arrow is easily broken but 10 in a bundle less so”.

The day also featured presentations on topics including how to unlock creative thinking, global versus local marketing strategies, creative people’s role in tech companies, and working as a CMO at Samsung. Here are some of the takeaways.

Making something real is better than talking about it

Chris Barez-Brown, a UK-based author and entrepreneur, made the point that marketers are still inclined to spend too much time “behind closed doors with data, debating the future”.

He said visualisation had a role to play in creativity, but that the best way to achieve anything meaningful is simply to “make it real”, even if in a crude form. Examples he gave included his 12-year-old son going from experimenting with Garage Band to becoming a signed musician; a friend going from making a knife out of curiosity to being a craftsman with a 3.5-year waiting list; and how he learnt to save someone from choking (the trainer deliberately began choking and needed saving).

“We try to do things that are too clever, too perfect and too pristine instead of just trying things out,” he said. “Too much time is spent debating and not doing. When you make something real you get real data back that you can use to refine your design… Realness gives you much better learning, better motivation and therefore much better energy.”

Local strategy trumps global

Ironically, the following session took the form of a debate—on the merits of global marketing strategies versus local ones. One team consisting of Yukiko Yamaguchi from Panasonic and Go Sohara from the agency Death of Bad argued in favour of localised strategy. Another consisting of Naomi Yamamoto from Shiseido and Sam Ahmed from Standard Chartered argued for global strategy.

Yamaguchi pointed out that global strategies often fail to take into account local nuances and as a result can end up being offensive. Sohara added that memorable dinners are never just about the food, but the food within a certain context. He added that the “way of fighting as an underdog” in a market is completely different to the approach a brand takes when it’s a market leader. He suggested marketers in local markets should resist the safe option of following globally approved work. Giving in is safe only in that it appeases headquarters, not in terms of the way the work is likely to be received by local audiences, he said.

Yamamoto argued that “outstanding human insight” is what makes great work and that such insight is difficult to come by when thinking locally. Ahmed said millennials in particular paid less attention to cultural differences. He said the best work came from debate, but, not from committees, which are too consensus driven.

A poll followed the arguments, with 54% of the audience voting in favour of locally driven work.

Bring creative people inside

Robert Wong, VP of Google Creative Lab, said Google now takes people with artistic backgrounds much more seriously than it did when he joined 10 years ago. But he noted that being based in New York was helpful in that it meant he avoided “drinking the Kool-Aid” at headquarters and could approach the company more objectively. He also had some advice for marketers in managing agency relationships.

“One is to hire people with creative backgrounds into your team. Whenever there are creative people inside, that helps bridge the external team. Two is, when you engage with a creative agency, you have to let it in on a problem, not just assign execution or tactics. You have to empower them not to be waiters but to be chefs.”

Robert Wong

Samsung struggles with consistency

Younghee Lee, EVP and CMO of Samsung, and Marc Mathieu, CMO of Samsung America, discussed the challenges they face. Lee said her biggest challenge as a CMO was “how to be consistent in the brand message without losing focus”. “Too much governance will always cause issues,” she said. “You have to be strategic enough to be global but flexible enough to be local.”

Lee said the only way to achieve good results from agencies was to be clear on the desired outcome. “Don’t complicate agencies with minor things. Focus on the strategy and encourage them,” she said.

Younghee Lee, Marc Mathieu

Mathieu said brands still fall into the trap of pursuing “purpose” that is not central to their product or service. He said when at Unilever, brand purpose meant pursuing a policy of “enlightened self-interest”. “It needs to be something core to the business model that pushes boundaries,” he advised. The principle remains the same at Samsung. “It’s true that when you deal with technology, you have to have a sense of responsibility, but social purpose has to be anchored in the impact you can have in the world with your products.”

Lee, who used to work at L’Oréal, also had some advice for female marketers. She said that while Samsung is seen as a male-dominated company, L’Oréal was “not gender equal either”. She added that half the marketing department at Samsung is now female.

“My challenge wasn’t very different,” she said. “Being female in an engineering company, you stand out, but I am confident in what I’m doing and can speak out for what I believe is right. You just need to be confident, professional and results-driven.”

Campaign Japan

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