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May 15, 2011

Eish. When did Marketing become ‘Advertising’?

by Howard Fox Chartered Marketer

Remember your first marketing lecture. Remember the four “Ps”. Marketing was about Product, Place, Price and Promotion. (Note to reader: this was the mid eighties, era of Boy George (1.0) and Banana Rama; before the 4P’s middle age waistline spread, Elvis like, to became seven P’s.)

Promotion was of course the sexiest, with advertising leading the pack of PR, sales promotion, and publicity. But it was clear. Marketing was a strategic pursuit rooted in the very heart of the business. It wasn’t just ‘lipstick on the bulldog’ – the glamour and glitz sometimes associated with the communication end of the business. This used to be referred despairingly (particularly by the late Dr. May) as ‘T and A’. Younger marketers should ask a silver-back if they are unfamiliar with the term, but suffice to say it was a less gender correct era.

Liberty Life "Get a plan get a Life" campaign conceived by howard and his team, resulted in excess of 35 000 financial plans being completed during the promotion period.

Somewhere between the disco eighties and today, we seem to have changed the definition of marketing. Even this august journal, which I always thought was called ‘The Journal of Marketing’ has surreptitiously changed its masthead to ‘Journal of Marketing | Advertising | Media | Broadcasting’. Andy Rice, South Africa doyen of strategic marketing-consulting admits to claiming to be in ‘Advertising’ to impress the pretty girls. Shouldn’t the pretty girls / boys be impressed that we drive strategic decisions on the Board, rather than make ads? Well perhaps not. But it is inherent upon us as marketing professionals to ensure we represent the true strategic importance of what we do. Look, Mad Men hasn’t helped the cause, but our own Journal (I will take the last edition as an example) should reflect the level of what we do. But it doesn’t. It’s all about media choice (mostly social media), communication (mostly advertising campaigns) with a sprinkling of brand and personalities from creative agencies.

Where is ‘price’, for example? Even through the price-fixing scandals – ranging from commodity chemicals, through bread to bicycles, I didn’t see journalists hunting down senior marketers to get their opinion on the effect price (illegally fixed or otherwise) has on corporate profits. Well that’s because we seem to have largely given up responsibility for price to our Chartered Accountant colleagues. Sure we have input. We create scenarios and talk confidently about price points, competitor pricing (strictly legally of course) and ‘important physiological barriers’ but in most organisations it’s really the FD who has final say on this ‘p’.

It’s time to take back our full accountability. The battle is on two fronts. First, are we including the full range of professional accountabilities in our marketing strategies? Or have we let ourselves get whittled down to just preparing communications strategies with a few strategic considerations tacked on? Have we succumbed to the siren call of the creative side of our jobs? ‘Distribution’ is far more concrete than ‘creative media strategies’. It’s more difficult to make strategic change here, and frankly the risks are usually higher. But the corporate rewards for optimising distribution business-models are a far more powerful lever with which to change our company’s profitability. Coca Cola is classically thought of as a marketing success, less because it invented Santa Clause and ‘taught the world to sing in perfect harmony’ and more because consumers (as directed by former chairman Robert Woodruff) are always being within an arms reach of an ice-cold Coke. [See case study: http://www.thetimes100.co.uk/case-study–within-an-arms-reach-of-desire–3-72-1.php#ixzz1GVLBQLnA ]

The second front is the stage of public opinion. When it next comes to flirting with the pretty girls / pretty boys of which Mr. Rice speaks, let’s flirt with ‘ROI’ and ‘product innovation’. With sweet nothings about ‘competitive intelligence’ and semantic mapping. Let’s try not to slip into the familiar ‘have you ever thought of being a model? I’m in advertising!’ If they glaze-over at all the strategic talk, they would make a boring date anyway.

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