Thomas Cook marketing boss: brands must take responsibility for their own safety

Advertisers cannot solely blame Google for the circumstances that led ads from major brands to run against extremist content, Thomas Cook's top marketer has warned.

Thomas Cook: recent campaign featured a same-sex kiss
Thomas Cook: recent campaign featured a same-sex kiss

Jamie Queen told Campaign it was the responsibility of companies to have the knowledge and procedures in place to protect themselves in the digital space.

The travel brand continued to advertise on YouTube following February and March’s revelations in The Times, he said, because he was "very confident in the robustness of our policies and approach".  

A string of high-profile brands announced they were suspending advertising on the video platform – although research later suggested not all of them followed through on their threat.

Queen was speaking to Campaign after becoming group marketing director on a full-time basis. Thomas Cook has hired Chris Chalmers, formerly digital marketing director at Asda, to take over the UK marketing and ecommerce director role that Queen had previously handled too.

Following the revelations, he said, "I was very concerned about it, we have very robust policies and controls that we regularly review to ensure our advertising isn’t served in the wrong places, and to the wrong types of viewers, and against the wrong types of content."

The seemingly panicked response of some companies highlighted why there needs to be "greater awareness of the way programmatic works within organisations," Queen added.

"Not just within the marketing team, but beyond. If the brand or the client doesn’t have access to that knowledge or information, how can they be asking their agency the right questions?"

Building marketing around the customer

Queen’s aspiration for Thomas Cook is to make it a fully customer-centric brand: "Most marketers say they put the customer at the heart of what they do, but often marketing teams are quite removed from the customer in the day-to-day work that they do. We’ve really made sure in our marketing teams that the customer is really close to what they do."

What this means is a focus on the lifetime of the customer and increased emphasis on touchpoints other than at the point of acquisition. "What are we doing before you go on holiday to anticipate your needs – what might you be needing, looking for, attracted by?" Queen explained.

"What happens when you return – do you want to share your memories, exchange some money back? What can we do as marketers to help you as a customer, not just in that early stage of booking."

Another aspect is a deeper understanding of where each customer is in terms of life stage – for example, being able to offer different types of hotel and shorter flight duration to someone who has become a parent.

It may seem obvious, but it isn’t necessarily automatic. "Getting that customer thinking really into our marketers is in some ways more difficult than most people appreciate," Queen said.  

"But we have invested heavily in really embedding customer thinking across our marketing team. Somebody managing a programmatic campaign, how much do they really get the chance to understand and anticipate customer needs? That’s something we’re putting a lot of effort into."

The focus on the customer also influences Queen’s attitude to diversity in the brand’s marketing. The brand received positive attention when it featured a same-sex kiss in its Christmas ad, "You want we do".

"Our advertising needs to be as diverse as our holidays and the people who holiday with us," Queen said. "All brands have a responsibility to reflect their customers and the general population in their advertising."

But while marketers such as Michele Oliver, UK vice-president of marketing at Mars Chocolate, have stressed the business arguments for promoting diversity in advertising, Queen is adamant he is not motivated by commercial motivations.

"For me, in a leadership position, I think it’s a requirement of marketing today to be as diverse in our marketing activity as the society we represent and sell to," he said.

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).