Friday 19 April 2019

Cox prompts robust argument over education in marketing


Debate: Damien McLoughlin of UCD Smurfit Business School spoke at the Marketing Institute annual CMO conference
Debate: Damien McLoughlin of UCD Smurfit Business School spoke at the Marketing Institute annual CMO conference

Michael Cullen

Seldom, if ever, has a talk at a Marketing Institute annual CMO conference sparked such an impassioned response. Core chief executive Alan Cox made a speech in which he was strongly critical of all branches of marketing in Ireland for ignoring the need to provide a standard of third-level education and training to help raise the professional bar.

Cox argued that the industry was guilty of turning a blind eye to nurturing continuous professional development. It explains why marketing and media relies heavily on opinion and far too little on fact. He urged marketers and agencies to join with the Marketing Institute and other industry bodies in creating a new educational model which would be the envy of the rest of the world.

UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School professor of marketing Damien McLoughlin reacted to the speech with a vigour that prompted a deafening silence in the Google Foundry's auditorium. Dr McLoughlin insisted Cox had no evidence to support his claims. He denounced references to Mark Ritson by describing the marketing pundit as someone who poses as "the Dunphy of international marketing".

"We've ideas from great thinkers and the service is there," the professor added. When invited to reply to Dr McLoughlin's outburst, Cox said his remarks showed the gap between academia and the marketing industry. His talk was based on research. "There are some people who think all is rosy, but adland takes a different line," Cox added.

Despite the verbal jousting, the two men later chatted amiably during a coffee break - perhaps heartened by the knowledge that they had triggered an important debate. The CMO conference kicked off with a less contentious but equally absorbing talk given by brand strategist Karen Hand. She said that while most marketers know the basics, it's how the basics are applied that counts.

Hand pointed to case studies in highlighting the need for change and why brand owners must accept the time for planning in marketing has shrunk. Blockbuster didn't act quickly enough, Netflix came long, stole their lunch and the company went bust. Diageo realised in time Baileys needed a new 'treat' strategy to compete with luxury ice cream.

Marketers need to adopt a mindful approach to business. The three principles here are great faith, great doubt and great determination. The great doubt revolves around asking if things have been done before and to study previous examples. Narcissism can be a good thing but marketers must be critical of strategies.

Great faith? Hand cited Bord Bia's Origin Green sustainable campaign fronted by Saoirse Ronan. The programme was aimed at making Ireland the food island by getting right to the grassroots - the farm. Bord Bia launched a voluntary scheme, independently assessed. They had the courage to experiment. Overseas buyers and retailers were convinced.

The ISPCC's Childline and Vodafone was a prime example of great doubt. The charity sought support but more calls wasn't what they needed. What finally emerged was the HeadBomz national awareness campaign and school programme to get kids talking.


This year's John Lewis Christmas ad lacks the magic of the famous retailer's previous 'Hare & the Bear' ad with Lily Allen singing 'Somewhere Only We Know'. A handy promo for Elton John, it resonates in terms of a young boy's dreams at getting the gift of a piano from Santa. John Lewis isn't urging shoppers to buy Elton John's embroidered silk dressing gown or tinted glasses, but will be pushing its pianos in the run-up to Christmas. Prices start at £150 (€168) for a keyboard. The more serious musician might choose upright pianos costing more than £800 (€898).

TAM Ireland, the TV audience measurement service, has launched the Tamis planning awards for Irish TV campaigns. The competition's four categories comprise best use of TV, best TV newcomer, best use of innovation and best ongoing use of TV. The grand prix winner selected from the four categories will receive €100,000 worth of TV airtime. Entries are free of charge and the closing date is January 27, with the awards event in late March.

Michael Cullen is editor of

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