Wholesome Marketing Ideas, Bite Size

Wholesome marketing ideas, bite size

Monday, March 28, 2011

Welcome to Just Marketing

Have you ever heard anyone say "ah, but that’s just marketing."

Maybe you've even said it yourself.

“Just marketing”???   What does that phrase mean?

As I understand it, at best it is dismissive, a trivialization of marketing – as in, “it’s nothing important,” “nothing you should take seriously” – it’s just marketing.

At worst, it is synonymous for "it's a lie," or "they're just lying." As in “using Axe deodorant is not really going to make you popular with women – it’s just marketing.” 

So “it’s just marketing” means either that the claims made by a seller are merely intended to entice you to buy something (a product, a service, an idea), but without much benefit to you; or that the benefits communicated are non-existent.

And when you think of the junk mail, the pop-up ads, the annoying commercials, greasy sales pitches, and sleazy bait and switch tactics, I understand where the disdain for marketing comes from. 

But as a professor of Marketing (just marketing?), I believe that in trivializing or discounting marketing, we risk ignoring how important marketing is in our lives, how much of the meaning in the lives of consumers is a result of marketing, how bland our lives would be without marketing.

Our lives bland without marketing? Really?

I know, I know, standing behind marketing is not a terribly popular position to take. But I will take it often. My posts will generally be about the meaning of marketing, rather than the more common demeaning of marketing. Given its awful reputation, marketing, it seems, has not been very good at marketing itself. This blog is devoted to the awesome power of marketing.

Marketing is construed very broadly on this blog.

In general, most of us think of Marketing as a subset of human communication. But let’s give this some more thought for a second – isn’t all communication an attempt to persuade, to change the recipient in some way? Can you think of any human communication that is not intended to change the way people think or behave?

If not, maybe we need to reverse the order of that statement: Communication is essentially marketing.

So, even though this blog is about Just Marketing, as in only marketing, and nothing but marketing, we’ll take that as a pretty broad remit.

I will post about once a week. I hope you will visit, read, and contribute comments frequently. If you’d like to be notified of new posts, please let me know by e-mail or enter your e-mail address in the "Follow by email" box to the right, and register for a feed.

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Dek4@psu.edu said...

ND: "Just marketing" IS a bit coy, eh? It belies the intensive and pervasive force within culture that persuades us, even when we're not paying attention, that there is some value in consuming something that we don't need and don't want. There is a margin between demand and desire that marketing exploits, sometimes unknowingly but always effectively. Todd McGowan's book "End of Dissatisfaction?" describes how, in the increasingly prevalent society of enjoyment, we more and more readily accept the implicit command to enjoy without knowing what this enjoyment is or how we are to use it. This is not a flaw, it's the means towards perfection of a "consuming unconscious" that allows products the maximum access to our mental domains.

One way of putting this would be to say that, if we have in mind some utility that justifies our consumption, it is accurate to say that "we are enjoying the product." However, when there is a significant disconnect between consumer and the object (a disconnect that is evident in appliances whose utility is only minimally mastered by the owners who cannot or do not read instruction manuals), there is an inverse function: the object is actually "enjoying the consumer." As Slavoj Zizek writes, we have many such "automatons" in our world: CD/DVD collections that relieve us from the obligation of having to listen to music or watch movies — having the collection allows us to postpone these laborious devotions! Just like Tibetan prayer-wheels, automation is the autonomy of desire, its existence as a free-floating signifier. Marx was on to something with his idea of fetish built into the exchange-value (vs. use-value). Late Capitalism seeks the maximum material investment with the minimum use value. Otherwise, people would only buy what they needed; then, where would we be?

Proof of the idea that objects enjoy us rather than the other way around is grounded in Althusser’s idea of interpellation (our readiness to believe in, and respond to, the attentive authority of the Other). If we find a good deal on a Rolls Royce Corniche, for example, we have to upgrade our garage to do it justice; then we think we may need a fancier house; a new spouse? — Certainly we cannot forget about what we wear when we’re driving … For a more sinister example, the Internet “enjoys” us every time it plants a cookie that informs subscribers about our consuming activities. The subscribers never consciously target us or know us individually; it’s all automated. We survive aggregation because the algorithms preserve our individual marketing data while packaging our consumer behavior stats. The prayer-wheel of marketing doesn’t even squeak, and the RPMs would make your head spin!

Anonymous said...

Not everyone subscribes to the notions of human shallowness that is espoused above. Marketing is actually benign and positive when it is used to promote better, healthier behaviours (think about messages related to drinking & driving for example). A robust marketing strategy should also be bringing the voice of the consumer INTO the organization to enable the organization to better respond to, anticipate or otherwise create products and services that better meet the needs of the target consumers. Perhaps it is worthwhile imagining a community devoid of marketing - such as Eastern Europe prior to 1989. Life was miserable, products were poorly made if even available and ingenuity was entirely absent. Lets be cautious about our cynicism....

Juliana Chesterfield said...

Part of the root cause why marketing is viewed as “Just Marketing” likely stems from the distinct perception of how hard and soft sciences are viewed. Most often we tend to give more weight to mathematics and physical sciences because they produce tangible, measurable results. Social sciences however are often more difficult to prove and quantify and thus are taken less seriously. These perceptions hold true in the business world as well where people often take accounting and finance more seriously than marketing since the former can be easily quantified and proven, while the direct impact of marketing is not always easy to distinguish.
When individuals fail to recognize the power of marketing they in turn become more susceptible to its effects. By failing to distinguish between what they really need and what they are being convinced they want, consumer buying behaviour is dramatically altered. By dismissing marketing as “Just Marketing” because it is not easy to directly see its impact, unsuspecting individuals are ironically more easily swayed because they do not recognize that the powers of marketing are drawing them towards a specific product or service.

Jayde Woodruff said...

This post reminds me of a discussion I had recently with my friend Ryan, about which car we would buy if we had our choice of cars. I ended up settling on an American made car and this seemed to set Ryan off. He was quick to accuse me of being a “slave to marketing” – saying I was mindlessly influenced by the hip new ad campaigns of Ford, Chrysler and GM. Ryan on the other hand, proudly (as if he were an expert in the field of automotive quality) declared that he would only buy a European made car. To him, European cars were the most well-made and high performance vehicles available. Now I ask, who is more “a slave to marketing”, my friend or I? Certainly I was influenced by the ads I saw – I won’t deny that, but where did Ryan’s perceptions come from if not from marketing? I personally have no idea whether German engineers are more competent than North American ones, yet German engineering has become so synonymous with quality that Ryan doesn’t even need the commercial to convince him what to buy. In both cases we made our decisions based on our perception of the brand, and in both cases our own perception of the brand is established by some form of marketing. More importantly, both American and European companies are aware of what we the consumers are looking for in a car. By communicating what is offered, the consumer has the power to buy the car which satisfies their needs. Thus the function of marketing becomes a two-way communication between the consumer and the firm/industry. If both sides actively participate in the marketing process, the firm will benefit with sales and the consumer will benefit from innovation and increasingly superior products.

Steven Ritchie said...

I think a bit misconception with marketing, as you briefly stated, is its prevalence outside of just the business world. As in a company trying to solidify its image and enterprise brand, a person may attempt the same thing. Through methods of communication (marketing, branding), they attempt to portray themselves in a certain way and have a certain image or perception as to how they would like to be seen. This is similar to business marketing as companies strive to do the same in a different manner. Saying "just marketing" completely undercuts the significance of marketing not only in creating a sustainable product/business, but its relevance in everyday life and how everyone markets themselves one way or another.

Jonita Gandhi said...

I think a lot of the “demeaning” of marketing as to do with its association solely with advertising. The benefits of each product are hidden behind flashy ads that just make advertising seem like a competition between brands for consumers’ attention. It makes us wonder what is just an attempt to grab our attention, and what is actually something that would add value to our lives. Since birth, we have been surrounded by labels and brands we have been constantly exposed to advertisements. Because of their sheer volume, it becomes difficult to pay much attention to them. I never used to believe that advertisements could influence people to the point where they would walk into the store and purchase a product based on an ad. But to me the power of marketing lies in the fact that it creates strong brand awareness and influences our culture and everyday lives. Sometimes without even knowing it, we develop trust for brands that we have seen or heard about; the power of marketing is evident when we ask for “Kleenex” rather than tissue...

Pat Morden said...

Yes! I live in the corporate communications world, where people insist on making a distinction between (devious, sly) marketing and (straightforward, truth-telling) communication. In fact, it's usually (boring) communication and (sexy, fun, creative) marketing. The sooner we recognize that they're one and the same, the better.