This is a draft
from the book when it was not yet published by my friend and Marketing colleague from
Auburn University in Alabama, Professor Herb Rotfeld. It is copyrighted by
him, and I reproduce it here with his permission. You may not cite it
without permission from the author, except in your paper for this course.
Herb Rotfeld has been a role model and inspiration to me in my efforts to
examine my doctoral area of study from a more critical point of view.
is a very difficult topic to discuss with people working in other fields
since everyone seems to be a self-proclaimed expert on the subject. After
all, they have been shopping and exposed to advertising their entire
lives. They see it and therefore they "know" it. And they're all
critics. Even at social gatherings, marketing people find the
introductions followed by all sorts of virulent complaints.
am reluctant to say I am a Professor of Marketing or that I teach
advertising courses. Total strangers quickly seem to blame me for the
advertising they don't like. When visiting New Zealand, even bus drivers
or the clerk at the souvenir store asked me what I thought of a
then-current commercial for Toyota trucks in which the characters
repeatedly say "Bugger" (a word of questionable and profane
etiology that recently had been the basis for complaints before the
national self‑regulatory Advertising Standards Association).
|"Where do I work? I'm a
faculty member at the university."
"Really? What department?"
"Oh, I'm interested in business. What do you
[Pause. Reluctant response] "Marketing and
"I HATE THOSE PANTY SHIELD COMMERCIALS."
"I'm sorry, but I have nothing to do with those. They
weren't my fault."
they grab my lapels and complain about cigarettes targeting children as if
I personally wrote the campaign plan.
one of the most visible of business practices, marketing is criticized by
almost everyone, from social critics to government lawmakers to political
pundits. Audience manipulation, offensive products and cultural
destruction are among the social ills often laid at the feet of the
marketing business. I still find that some students in my classes say they
had enrolled because they want to learn how (not "if")
advertising manipulates people's behavior. Even Time
magazine had a cover story about the various tricks and tools of
marketing, illustrated by a metaphorical picture of a consumer dancing on
a marketing man's puppet strings.
Supposedly, consumers are controlled by the mind manipulation of marketing
planners, or so many people believe.
a half century ago this near-paranoid view of marketing power fit what
leading business people believed under their own views of marketing theory
and practice. At that time, marketing was seen as selling; if the product
wasn't selling, the marketing people were not doing a good job. We thought
that political propaganda drove the citizens of every nation; the first
widespread efforts in the late 1930s to study how and why mass
communications and persuasion works were impelled by a concern that we
needed to find ways to inoculate the vulnerable citizens of free nations
against the much feared (and fearsome) powers of Nazi propaganda.
marketing people know better, or so we hope. Twenty-five years ago, a
documentary interviewer asked noted advertising man George Lois how it
felt to have so much power over consumers' minds. But his response is that
advertising is not mind bending because, as he put it, "No one
is that good." The fact is that no one can be that good.
After decades of research, it is generally realized that marketing
practitioners can only wish they had the power business' critics presume
they possess. In reality, they don't.
criticisms might be voiced by people with limited knowledge or
understanding of marketing theory and practice, but these criticisms are
often generated by examples of what I have come to call misplaced
marketing, in that people who could or should be making marketing
decisions are misplacing their focus on basic perspectives that should be
oblong piece of plastic on my desk with a curved bottom and a flat top can
be spun on its axis. But because of the way it is weighted, curved and
balanced, you can only spin it counter-clockwise. Even though is a
plain‑looking piece of plastic, appearing as complicated as a common
thumb tack, inexplicably it will resist spinning in the other direction.
If it is shoved clockwise, it starts to spin, then wobbles, hesitates, and
reverses direction. Similarly, with free consumers in the marketplace, as
long as a marketing planner knows the way people want to go and
understands why, he or she can try to encourage them to go faster or
slower, or try to start them moving in the first place. Trying to get them
to move in ways they don't want to go will only result in failure.
microbiologist I knew years ago always liked to describe the latest
research problem in his laboratory by saying that, "Under carefully
controlled conditions, organisms behave as they damn well please."
What is true for his microbes is more true for people. Successful
marketing planning a practice has to take consumers' behavior tendencies
people might believe that marketing people pull consumers' strings. Many
people think consumers are controlled by marketing or advertising, but
they're not. At best,
marketing people try to find those "buttons to push,"
they want to predict exactly how those potential customers will jump.
perspective that has become common and repeated ad nauseam in
literature for our trade associations and textbooks, what they refer to as
"the modern marketing concept," presents an approach for all
product and service planning that takes into account a world in which
people have more in common with my obstinate plastic or my friend's
unicellular lab organisms than they do with puppets on strings.
In short, marketing people can't sell a product unless there is
some underlying initial consumer interest or inclination. In theory, the
marketing concept combines all facets of the product design, price
decisions, where the product is available for sale, personal selling and
mass communications with an orientation to "satisfy consumer needs
and wants." (That's their mantra: "satisfy consumer needs and
its core, it shifts the basis of planning from production followed by
sales efforts. Instead, it directs marketing planners to first assess how
and why a people make various decisions. Those assessments, in turn, are
the basis for designing products, setting prices and then doing
other efforts at providing consumer information or persuasion.
critics try to admit to this limit to marketing power, but then assert
that all‑knowing marketing people have studied people and know
exactly which of consumers' mental buttons to push to get the desired
response. And yet, this power is also intrinsically limited. The best
available predictions are very difficult, weak and uncertain. After
decades of studies of consumers and market analysis, the most heavily
researched predictions are still providing only weak correlations with
actual outcomes. Even among the most successful of firms, even with
extensive research and planning, the majority of their new products or
service innovations fail to entice customers to make a purchase.
In theory, the marketing concept as a planning perspective
increases the likelihood that a firm will be successful, but it is far
from a promise of certainty.
the perspective of making decisions based on consumer interests gives a
way for viewing customer-firm relations. This is not to overstate the
power of the marketing concept -- is not a guarantee of marketing success
-- but it does give a basic perspective that recognizes the limits of
marketer power and, at the same time, a focus for analysis of marketing
down side to this world-view of marketing theory and practice is that when
U.S. started the modern wave of business criticisms thirty years ago, many
business educators and practitioners did not understand how it had
ramifications for their work. Many still don't. The American Marketing
Association says that marketing is satisfying consumer needs and wants,
making it seem as if "real" marketing is above reproach and
positive. Marketing experts
were heard to say, "The marketing concept says that we should
'satisfy consumer needs,' so since we are satisfying consumers,
'consumerism' (as consumer protection was called in the 1970s) isn't
really a problem for us."
it must be noted that saying "We are just providing a service that
people want" sounds the same as a drug dealer, a pimp or the
Prohibition-era gangster, Al Capone.
notwithstanding, even the best reading of such a view presumes that all
firms follow this marketing orientation. Many don't. The often ignored
fact is that many firms fail to ask basic marketing questions of
"how," "why" or "if" people might be interested in the planned product features or
advertising messages. Firms often make what should be marketing decisions
simply because the manager found it interesting. Instead of considering audience views of the world, the
managers practice ethnocentrism. Instead of trying to anticipate customer
problems, systems are set for convenience of employees.
And (more dangerously), while doing a good job using marketing
tools to focus on key customer groups, they ignore potential critics'
if they all did adhere to the marketing orientation for all decisions, it
would not necessarily also be true that many firms satisfying consumer
needs would also serve the interests of society at large. And even if they
did all satisfy consumer needs AND those of society, when some
organizations do a good job of marketing their goods or service or ideas,
many of business' critics wish that the marketing was not involved
(because we do not want firms to do a good job of selling, say,
cigarettes). What many
consumers "want" are not necessarily what they should be
other words, marketing activities can be "misplaced" because the
marketing tools are misused,
misapplied, abused or simply the source of social criticisms of business
activities. In every
instance, the firms that misplace marketing could be financially
successful while some present or potential customers are dissatisfied.
Social groups that use marketing tools never discover how (or if)
their public information campaigns fail.
Government agencies often don't ask marketing questions to the
detriment of the public groups they are expected to efficiently serve.
modern marketing concept might say to "satisfy consumer needs,"
but misplaced marketing shows that marketing practice does not always put
the concept to its best use. And, in the end, consumers or society are not
"marketing" without the marketing concept
is part of the business' conventional wisdom that the "smaller"
or unsuccessful firms that might still just look at marketing in terms of
selling and all "SUCCESSFUL" firms practice the marketing
concept, or so many think. Yet there exist many examples of products or
services that do not follow the "marketing concept," but
instead, provide features in terms of what designers or engineers say they
can produce. For them,
marketing remains just selling. Marketing
gets "misplaced" because the planners or managers don't ask how
the product or service could meet consumer needs.
these cases, marketing can be misplaced in the sense of "lost."
exist many examples of products or services that do not follow the
"marketing concept," but instead, they misplace it and provide
features in terms of what designers or engineers say they can produce.
When marketing remains just selling, the theory and perspective get "misplaced" because the planners or managers don't
ask how the product or service could meet consumer needs.
examples are not hard to find. Everyone has looked for a product with
certain features and "settled" for something short of what they
want. It is not uncommon to hear the store manager state he or she
"knows" the customers, so certain products are never stocked.
"They're not interested in that kind of thing," the inquiring customer
is told, though the manager never tried stocking it and no one ever sought
other opinions. Some are bad service. Sometimes it is a managers seeing
rules as more important than service, as when customers of retail stores
test doors a few minutes before opening and walk away, while employees
mill about inside the store waiting for the clock to chime on the hour for
the posted time. Sometimes features are added to a product mix because an
engineer thought it would be simple and inexpensive to do, not because
anyone thought it made the product more desirable for consumers. And some
examples are just plain corporate or engineering stupidity: expensive
electronic items often have simple parts like batteries or lights that are
expected to die but are nigh impossible to replace; service hotlines are
often not so hot. And some offensive ads are just bad messages, the result
of business stupidity or ethnocentrism.
course, a product is more than the sum of its physical features and a good
sales job changes the product itself.
And maybe the people who can't find exactly what they want are just
out of step with the rest of the marketplace.
There might not be enough of them to be considered a viable target
market segment -- maybe virtually all potential purchasers
want the unavoidable features of, for example, stereos with AM radios,
portable digital radios with clocks, wrist watches with several alarms and
minivans that fill every inch of space with seats.
marketing does not mean a business will fail, especially if all
competitors engage in the same activities. But when advertising is done
without any idea or direction of what it can or should accomplish, the
business is wasting money. And misplaced marketing makes for unusual
perspectives of businesses toward their customers.
from the U.S. are notoriously bad at this, as we try to ram our products
down the rest of the world and claim "unfair" when it isn't
bought. We misplaced marketing so we are more ethnocentric than
international. U.S. companies often send products to other countries with
features designed for satisfying customers in our domestic market without
consideration of special concerns of consumers in other nations, as if
what satisfies consumers in the U.S. provide the same values around the
marketing should have been used
another sense, marketing gets lost by arrogant ignorance. As I noted at the
outset, everyone is an expert, or so they like to believe. Many times,
marketing tools are used without any understanding or how or why it should
do the job. There are so many efforts in which marketing perspectives could
be used, but aren't.
fellow student in my graduate school classes saw a massive advertising
campaign as the solution for every social problem. Public television
stations are facing a funding shortage? An advertising campaign would get
more viewers for the shows which, in turn, would generate more funding.
Too many people not wearing seat belts? An advertising campaign would
convince them to change their habits? Too many children in schools trying
drugs? Advertising will convince them not to do so. The space program is
facing problems in Congress for funding? A public information advertising
campaign will show everyone how wonderful the program is for U.S. prestige
and new product development.
her simplistic solutions from someone who should have known better -- she
had worked in the business for several years before entering the graduate
program -- she never really said how or why advertising could or would
persuade people to change habits. She misplaced the basic marketing
perspective that would first ask if the advertising could serve a
role in changing consumer views and, if so, what type of appeals should be
is not an issue of how to use marketing for non-profit organizations.
Instead, it is of failures from people whose "solution" is to
run an ad or "sell" without any consideration of how or why
marketing tools would do the job. In many instances, the term could be
"misplaced social marketing" in that advertising
campaigns are seen as the solution for social problems. And the campaigns
Zealand and Australia have been running very strong images of the dangers
from drunk driving, speeding, failure to use seat belts and other forms
unsafe driving behavior. The advertising messages all say, "Do these
things and you will die, or be so badly injured you will be sorry you
survived." The ads are very graphic, but their impact on the public
is uncertain at best. Reductions in fatal crashes are credited to the
campaigns and increases in the death toll are blamed on bad advertising,
yet a failure to ask marketing questions means the actual role of
advertising is questionable at best. In fact, it is uncertain if any money
should be spent on advertising, with available fund instead being spent on
better enforcement of laws, but those are basic marketing questions that
are not asked.
many public interest advertising campaigns have tried to encourage the
"at risk" young populations to refrain from unsafe sexual
behaviors or drug-use. And when I show sample of the ads to undergraduate
students (who, I might add, are the primary target for the spots), they
laugh. Many public information campaigns fail because they are created
around what the managers want to say instead of an understanding of what
would persuade or change the behaviors or a target audience. Arrogant
ignorance outweighs marketing planning to the detriment of the campaign's
ability to accomplish anything.
vexing from a person point of view are those cases in which marketing
tools are used because some official thinks "something" should
be done. But without understanding just how or why marketing could do a
job, they waste money on ineffectual and unnecessary advertising.
New Zealand, city school districts no longer require children to attend
the nearest neighborhood school. Instead, parents could send them to
whatever school they think might be doing a better job of providing a
quality education (assuming the children could get accepted there). Each
school, in turn, is then funded based on the numbers of students that
enroll. Of course, the academic leaders of each school now believe that
they must advertise to attract students. Just what those ads should say,
or if they should be used at all, is never really questioned. Members of
the public are appalled that money is spent on advertising instead of
education, but the schools feel they must do "something." So
faced with declining funding from the state legislature, Auburn University
launched an advertising campaign. The target was uncertain and the goals,
amorphous. To some, it seems that the money visibly spent on advertising
raised more ire from the public than a desire to give more to education.
But the real problem is that the ads were poorly conceived and planned.
this same category we should include the unfortunate story of trade
associations that seem more bent on serving internal needs than those of
members. The American Marketing Association should know better -- you
would think that basic marketing perspectives would be second nature to
the leadership given the name of the organization -- but they have been
losing members and gaining eternal enmity from those that stay from
failing to consider how to satisfy member wants and needs. They have
stayed solvent and influential as the oldest and largest association with
both professional and educator members, and it publishes the major
academic journals and professional magazines. Still, despite these clear
benefits, due to the association's marketing failures, people keep
failures, to not use marketing or to use it poorly, are clearly lost
opportunity. The results are unfortunate and frustrating.
things people want is what they should be getting
most vexing problem for marketing people comes from those instances when
marketing is accused by pundits, activists and public policy makers of
being misplaced when it is properly used and applied. Politicians, movie
or music producers, cigarette companies, distillers, gun companies,
pornographers or others often do a good job of following the dictates of
thorough strategic marketing, while many people might wish that, at least
for them, marketing was not used.
of marketing, adapting themselves to a marketable image, politicians
should be leaders, using marketing theory and practice to, at most, sell
their ideas to the public. No "leader" should base policies on a
marketing plan, or so we hope, since "leader" should not mean
"good reader of public opinion polls." Cultural artifacts should
grow from the populace, not be designed as per a marketing strategy, or so
we are often told. In addition, to critics of the U.S. marketplace (and to
critics of these products in New Zealand, too), guns, cigarettes,
pornographic movies and gambling games should not be efficiently and
profitably delivered to "satisfy consumer needs," no company
should be allowed to maximize its profits with these products, and NEVER
should these products even be imagined to be marketed with children as a
should also be noted that not all things consumers "want" are
what they should be getting. Marketing might also be misplaced in the
sense that satisfying consumer needs might be contrary to those of the
greater society. Over two decades ago when the first oil shortages forced
car companies to offer more efficient products, the solution was to
produce smaller and lighter vehicles. But one U.S. company tried to delay,
offering a downsized version of its luxury car line but strongly promoting
the still available "original" full-sized gas-guzzling version
(clearly for the U.S. market, I often say, complete with rotating gun
turret). The affluent consumers who cared not about rising gas costs might
have been served, but not the social goal of oil conservation.
course, even if critics believe that marketing is misplaced does not
necessarily mean it should be banned, but it could be a source of
"problems" (or, at least, a basis for criticisms of various
aspects of marketing practice). Calling the problem "misplaced
marketing" gives a context for understanding mistakes or unintended
consequences (though it does not account for events such as heads of
American cigarette companies appearing before the U.S. Congress -- as they
did a few years ago -- and swearing their belief that nicotine is not
addictive and that there is no link between smoking and cancer).
sometimes, what might be seen as good marketing could be harmful to both
the "product" and society. The "product" should not be
deformed just to serve the dictates of a marketing plan, especially if
those changes reduce product quality while not better serving customers or
society. In the marketing of education, schools and universities have
often focused on "benefits" other than education, such as sports
teams or jobs graduates might try to fill. These might be reasons why some
people choose a school, but by presenting these benefits as important, the
marketing of education has caused harm to education itself as both parents
and students lose sight of the basic values of education itself.
originally coined the term “misplaced marketing” to help generate
student interest in a course, "Legal Social Ethical Environment of
Business" in the Auburn M.B.A. program.
Years ago, business schools were directed to teach ethical and
social issues with a belief that it would create more ethical
practitioner, but business students are more concerned with pragmatic
directives on how to be successful. When the program turned the class from
a requirement into an elective, I had to tie the discussions into cases
and practices of marketing and consumers.
And yet, as the late adman Howard Luck Gossage often said, getting
business people to see how ethics is in their best interests is "like
telling an eight-year-old that sex is more fun that ice cream."
With misplaced marketing, I was able to frame these important
issues in pragmatic contexts of the working environment of business.
therein lies the interest from a review of "misplaced
marketing," be it misplaced because it is misapplied, misused,
abused, or simply the source of social criticisms. These are not all
marketing mistakes, though it is easy to see where products such as the
failed. Apple Newton misplaced marketing while the successful Palm Pilot
did not. But the questions it raises can also include apparent successes,
so misplaced marketing gets to the heart of seeing what marketing is, is
not, and what it can be.
have been a growing number of criticisms of the marketing concept, saying
that it tends to be removed from reality of marketing practice.
Many textbooks use it as a starting point of a "history of marketing
thought," then seem to ignore it when giving more details on concerns
of research and practical applications.
marketing gives a perspective for analysis, a basis for studying problems
and situations. If the marketing concept doesn't give us a way to deal
with ideas, then all we have in marketing is a collection of obvious
generalities and wishful thinking with limited apparent business value
(plus terms that you won't find in any dictionary). I hope we are more
Herbert Jack Rotfeld
Scholar, educator & iconoclast
Department of Marketing &
201 Lowder & Lowder Business
Auburn University, Alabama
2, 1999, p. 39-43.
Esslemont and Tony Lewis, "Some Empirical Tests of the Marketing
Concept," Marketing Bulletin, vol 2 (1991), p. 1-7.
Enright, "Marketing Meta-narrative and its Tenets: At Odd With
Marketing Realities," Asia Pacific Journal of Marketing and