Rishad Tobaccowala Pinpoints the Beginnings of a Tectonic Change in Marketing

Publicis Groupe’s chief strategist knows what to do about it, too

Headshot of Michael Burgi

Attendees at the Digital Place-Based Advertising Association's annual Video Everywhere Summit in New York couldn't have known their minds would be blown an hour in. Expecting the usual stats and examples of successful out-of-home digital video stories, instead they got a 10,000-foot POV from one of the industry's great thinkers.

Rishad Tobaccowala, chief strategist at Publicis Groupe and known Zen master of the agency world, made great use of his 10-minute slot by identifying the year marketing was turned upside down, then offering ideas on how to think about successful marketing today and in the future.

After establishing that the three drivers of change in marketing and communications are globalization, demographic shifts and digitization, Tobaccowala pointed out that the increase in processing power in smartphones—today's phones have greater processing power than all the computers in the first space shuttle, he noted—has empowered consumers like never before, turning them into veritable Davids with slingshots to marketers' Goliaths.

Tobaccowala noted that in 2007, two things happened that gave consumers the slingshot: the iPhone was first released and Facebook went from .edu to .com. That's when people were given the power, as well as the platform, to speak their minds at any time. And no one, at least not Apple's competition in the smartphone field—Nokia and Blackberry at the time—saw it coming. "They didn't take Apple seriously … and look at what's happened," said Tobaccowala. 

Ultimately, Tobaccowala noted that the inevitability of change is hard for many to accept. "Change sucks," he declared. "The more you want things to stay the same, the more they will have to change." 

He wrapped up his speech (no slides, no video, and yet the audience was rapt) with a few changes he said need to happen: 

1. The title CMO needs to be done away with. Chief marketing officers need to become chief facilitating officers.

2. Marketers need to stop advertising—they need to offer utility. "People don't want to see your stupid message," he said (clearly implicating himself in his message as much as the audience). 

3. Video will indeed be everywhere, but he encouraged marketers to look more at the YouTubes and Netflixes of the world than the CBS's or NBCs. "The future more often comes from the slime than the heavens," he said.

4. Owning data is an obsolete idea. The secret of success with data is how to access it and use it.

5. Mobility: "Where you are is just as important as who you are." 

6. Finally, one thing all marketers need to remember: "In a silicon world, we are still talking to carbon life-forms." In other words, be human and tell stories. 

@michaelburgi michael.burgi@adweek.com Michael Burgi is Adweek's director of editorial partnerships.