NEW YORK: Many marketers still have "their heads in the sand" when it comes to understanding the contours of brand-building in the digital age, according to Mark Addicks, the former CMO of General Mills.

Speaking at the Advertising Research Foundation's (ARF) Audience Measurement 2016 conference, Addicks, who worked at General Mills for 26 years and retired in 2015, suggested enormous opportunities exist in the evolving media ecosystem.

"We are seeing an explosion of ways that a brand can express itself," he said. (For more, including further tips for brands, read Warc's exclusive report: Addicks: Marketers shell-shocked by data explosion.)

"It will be about the revolution of 'now': The first click; the first walk through the retail store; the first interaction with the brand," Addicks said.

But the response to this shift among brand custodians, he argued, has not been uniformly impressive: "I'm a little shocked at how many people on the marketing-side still have their head in the sand.

"They're still talking in terms of 'predictable audiences' and 'predictable outcomes'. They're not in the flow of this 'now' at all.

"They really haven't acknowledged that we have a consumer in control, and that the nerve center is the telephone. It's the place that they will start and finish."

In such a context – where CMOs and their teams must understand, and connect with, audiences in more intimate ways than ever before – the traditional playbook requires a radical update.

"[Marketers] are living in a world of chaos. They are desperate for order. They need a rulebook. They need some way out," Addicks reported.

Select features of the old marketing way will remain in place, he further ventured, with certain "appointment" media retaining an ability to deliver significant scale.

"In our world, it will be 'appointment' media where people actually do still show up in the audience numbers you want to see, and they will play by the rules," Addicks said.

But marketers that are not sufficiently flexible face an imminent threat of disruption, warned Addicks, who has been doing some consulting work for large and small brands since leaving General Mills.

"This revolution is playing havoc with a lot of the big brands and it's a real opportunity for a lot of the small brands," he told the ARF delegates.

Data sourced from Warc