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Marketing concept, a bless or a curse?

By Christos Mantas

Marketing, with its daily presence in the life of the consumers, has been object of criticism. The traditional marketing is examining the needs of the consumers and helps the firms to produce products or services that will satisfy these needs. This production will make profits for the companies, which are paying salaries to their personnel to consume who are consuming these salaries on the markets. Therefore marketing is contributing to the welfare of an economy.

The ‘best practices’ of marketing can increase the supply (through the production) and the demand (through the incomes). It also helps to the development of new technologies, the creation of new firms (increase of competition and new jobs), increases the quality of life and contributes to the increase of the social welfare 1 [1].

Since the 70’s there has been a polemic to marketing. At the same time there has been the marketing revolution with the writings of Kotler and Levy (1969)2 [2] and Kotler (19723 [3]), which put the bases of the traditional marketing. According to Malliaris (19904 [4]) the main subjects of the marketing polemics have been the followings:
-Marketing creates a stress to the consumers to purchase the new products
-Increases the environment problems
-The products are not always safe and customer-friendly with significant consequences to the consumers
-The advertisements are making the consumers to purchase products that they do not need
-It creates lifestyles that are not always representative of the social values that the society imposes.
-The distribution of the products is complicated; it includes many intermediates and therefore increases the prices
-Many firms are providing low quality services to their customers
-The personal selling sometimes makes a consumer to purchase something on a biased situation or to purchase something that does not need it.

This has resulted to the phenomenon of ‘consumerism’. According to Arnold and Fischer (19965 [5]) the concept of consumerism is that marketing is not doing its duty to the society in a proper way. In few words, marketing does not adapt its ideology, which is to satisfy the customer and protects its environment and does not practice it either.

It is vital, before to examine its implications, to give a definition of the marketing concept. Mc Carthy and Perreault (1984 p.356 [6]) defined as follows: “The marketing concept means that an organization aims, all its efforts as satisfying its customers – at a profit” The above definition shows that the marketing concept aims to three evidences. These are:

1.Customer orientation

2. Integration of Effort

3. Profitability

Therefore, the practicing of marketing (according to that definition) is about making money.

Through the years many authors have criticize it. Jolson (1978,p.17 [7]) stated that “the marketing concept is so ubiquitous in the marketing classroom that the naïve student of marketing is generally led to believe that firms who fail to employ this philosophy are business criminals”.

Authors such as Gilbert and Bailey (1990 p.6 8 [8]) are arguing that the marketing concept derived from pressures that came from the need to build some theories based on production. Middleton (19899 [9]) argues that the customer orientation is nothing new and it is actually as old as civilization. He is using the example of sword makers in ancient Rome that made the swords according to the customers’ specification to argue on the argument of Kotler and Levy (1969) that marketing is the offspring of the production era. He is also stating that “ there has to be a balance between company’s objectives and consumer needs” something that is not happening because most of the firms are focus to the profits rather than the customers’ satisfaction that can maximize the profits’ volume. Franklin Houston (1986, p.8210) adds that “few, if any, of organizations come into being through altruism: that is, organizations do not come into being to achieve the goals of a nonmember constituency*. Instead, it is the set of objectives defined by the membership that guides the organization.”

The marketing concept has expressed both to satisfy the consumer (offering him/her products that meet his / her needs) and the company objectives (which are profits) by producing a balance between these two elements. So we can not blame the concept itself rather than the people and the organizations that are implementing it. The marketing concept recognizes how important is the consumer.

The main criticism about the marketing concept is that it is used from the academics and the companies to bring profit maximization for the companies and not to offer the best possible satisfaction to the consumers.

Holbrook and Hubler (2002, p.70611 [10]) stated “that marketing faces something of a Y2K problem. Indeed, as the next millennium begins, concludes that, though the marketing concept may survive, the marketing function itself is dead.” Holbrook and Hubler are giving a negative view for what is today marketing. Marketing it is viewed as a ‘potential social problem’ According to these authors, the traditional model that Kotler and Levy (1969) promoted in which “marketing as those managerial activities that tend to facilitate and consummate exchanges – that is transactions between two parties, in which each gives up something of value to the other in return for something of greater value to the self” needs to be expended and somewhat reworded. According to Holbrook and Hubler the 21th century marketing concept should be : “Marketing comprises managerial activities – such as those associated with channels of distribution, product design, promotional communication and pricing – that facilitate and/or consummate exchanges by closing the gap or removing the separation between two parties such as a producer and a consumer.”

Many authors, such as Stephen Brown, have attacked to marketing authors and especially to Philip Kotler. Kotler drafted the cornerstone of modern marketing and has defended its disciplines. S.Brown (2002, p.31312 [11]) says, “Marketing is doubted by its scholarly citizens, questioned by a standing army of consultants and challenged by increasingly anarchistic consumers who are voting with their pocketbooks”. S.Brown describes Kotler’s marketing view as the ‘ground zero’ of marketing’s customer-orientated credo. Marion (200113 [12]) claims that for the current marketing concept, as given from Kotler’s theoretical view, aims to profit maximization and he adds that this concept made many persons to continental Europe to see marketing as something foreign to them that was created on the other side of the Atlantic ocean. This resulted to the edition of many articles (mainly from French intellectuals) that are not in favor of the marketing concept.

Baudrillard (196914 [13]) supported the view that marketing concept needs to be reconstructed and produce some social messages that will create a friendlier environment for marketing in Europe. Firat and Venkatesh (199315 [14]) agree in the view that marketing concept needs a reconstruction and this can be made from post-modern marketing. Stephen Brown also aggress with that opinion by saying that “given the hegemony of postmodern discourse in today’s intellectual milieu and the prominent part played marketing artifacts and practices” (Brown, 1993 p.19 16 [15]).

Finally Browlie and Saren (1991 17 [16]) are criticizing the marketing concept in many of its aspects. Some of them are that it is undermining the competitiveness but their main argument is that “it is questionable whether the marketing concept as it has been propagated can provide a basis for successful business at the end of the twentieth century. It was an idea born in the conditions of post-second world war expansion in the USA” (Browlie and Saren, 1991 p.38). Their point is that the marketing concept was developed during the ‘production era’, but today we have passed through the ‘sales’ and the ‘marketing era’ and many things have changed.

To conclude, the main criticism about the marketing concept is that it is used from the academics and the companies to bring profit maximization for the companies and not to offer the best possible satisfaction to the consumers. Also the marketing concept is a theory developed 30 years ago (during the production era), and needs a reconstruction, revisiting and a rewording, which will take in consideration some new concepts such as the post-modernity.

Criticism to the 4 P’s

The 4 P’s (or 7 P’s in the services marketing) is the cornerstone of marketing. The first marketing principle that marketing students are learning is the 4 P’s. Kotler (2003,p.15 18 [17]) states, “the marketing mix is the set of marketing tools the firm uses to pursue its marketing objectives in the target market”. The 4Ps theory was developed from McCarthy 19 [18] many years ago and classifies these tools to product, price, promotion and place. Over the years the concept of marketing mix has became a popular practice. Brownlie and Saren (1991,p.34) state “the whole marketing concept (including the 4 Ps) has remained unchanged within time”.

Van Waterschoot and Van ben Blute (1992 20 [19]) have focused the criticism to 4Ps’ inherent negative definition of sales promotion and its lack of mutual exclusiveness and collective exhaustiveness.

Van Waterschoot and Van ben Blute (1992p.83) are using a quote from P.Kotler. Kotler that says, “McCarthy’s classification is especially useful from a pedagogical point of view. Nevertheless, the feeling remains that some other classification, still to be born, will develop better conceptual distinctions among the large variety of marketing decision variables”. On the other hand Hyman(2001 21 [20]) argues, “Despite its pedagogical predominance during the last four decades, marketing scholars increasingly doubt the value of the 4Ps schema”. So there is skepticism for the pedagogical use of the 4 Ps.

One of the aims of the 4Ps (Avlonitis,1991 22 [21]) was to produce a marketing definition for ‘dummies”. Marketing pioneers wanted to make marketing friendly to their students and to the business environment. Avlonitis (1991,p.34) claims, “the early marketing authors wanted to produce a definition that would be easily understood and therefore will make the newcomers to feel comfort. Till the early and mid 60’s many believed that marketing was another complicated science, such as the macroeconomics, and the marketing authors used the 4Ps to show to their students how simple is marketing theory”. So the 4Ps was used primary for pedagogical use and to attract some new ‘followers’. Christian Gronroos (1994,p.523 [22]) says, “that the 4Ps represent a significant oversimplification of Borden’s original concept, which was a list of 12 elements not intended to be a definition at all. Moreover the elements of this list would probably have to be reconsidered in any given situation.”

The first criticism came with the issue of the promotion. Authors such as Ames and Hlavecek (1984 24 [23]) and Baggozi (1986 25 [24]) and several others indicated some limitations on the Promotion. Van Waterschoot and Van ben Blute (1992p.84 ) did a synopsis of these authors and they found that “they mention the presence of two important dimensions, “communications” and “promotion” (or persuasion), and the vagueness of the borderline between these two dimensions.” The result of this was the development of the promotion mix.

Gronroos (1994) criticizes that the problem is not how much Ps will be used, for example the 7Ps of the services marketing mix. The problem is of a theoretical nature and indicates Van Waterschoot and Van ben Blute’s article as the most suitable to explain the limitations of the marketing mix. The above authors are concluding that the marketing mix is built on a loose foundation. More precisely Van Waterschoot and Van ben Blute (1992, p.85) are indicating, “The properties or characteristics that are the basis for classification have not been identified. The categories are not mutually exclusive”. So there has to be done some work in order to define which characteristics or element the marketers can use in order to classify the Ps and therefore each category to be mutually exclusive.

Many authors are supporting the idea that marketing is not only a business tool, but it can be used for the welfare of the society and to preserve some ethical values.

The other important limitation is the collectively exhaustive of the 4Ps. Van Waterschoot and Van ben Blute (1992,p.85) are indicating, “each item must be capable of being assigned to a category”. There are some marketing phenomena that have a catch-up all behavior and therefore is not easy to categorize their items.

In addition to this, Gronroos adds (2001,p.6) that “many marketing related phenomena are not included” and gives the example of the marketing research.

The conclusion here is that the marketing mix is a simplistic definition of how to use marketing as a tool. Its purpose was to give an efficient and easy-learnt definition of how to use marketing. The remedy on this would be an expanded marketing mix based on a solid foundation with the appropriate empirical evidence.

Van Waterschoot and Van ben Blute (1992) are indicating an example of a functional classification of the marketing mix, which emphasizes their complementarity. Of course this is just a proposal that has not been adopted by the author authors. What has to be done is the development of some updated version of the marketing concept and of the marketing mix built on a solid foundation.

Marketing and society

Many authors are supporting the idea that marketing is not only a business tool, but it can be used for the welfare of the society and to preserve some ethical values. The result of the later is the societal marketing concept. Its definition is that it “holds that organization’s task is to determine the needs, wants and interests of target markets and to deliver the desired satisfactions more effectively and effectively and efficiently than competitors in a way that preserves or enhances the consumer’s and the society’s well-being” (Kotler,2003 p.27). According to this concept, the marketers must create some marketing practices that will respect the social values and will show their ethos. Body Shop has expanded its business and sales volume by developing a corporate image based on the societal marketing concept principles. Elliot et al (1994,p.589 26 [25]) are claiming “the field of “social marketing” provides a very useful framework to improve the diffusion of social change program”. On the other many firms, such as the tobacco firms are famous for using marketing techniques to attract new smokers and therefore to expose them with the threat of the lung cancer that comes from cigarettes.

Milton Friedman (1986 27 [26]) said that companies should increase their profits as long as they obey the laws. By increasing its profits, the companies will distribute their welfare to their personnel and therefore to the society. Jack Welch, when he was G.E.’s CEO increased the firm’s profits but at the same time he cut 130,000 jobs. He claimed that he funded many university programs, as part of his social policies but the reality, according to Walker (2001 28 [27]), was that he wanted to invest to students that would demand lower wages than its current employees. So he used the social policies and promote them to the society as an action of helping the society to overcome problems but the truth was the he was investing to some students that would offer him cheap labor.

There is a division between the authors whether the companies must follow social marketing concepts or no. The impact of these policies can be found to the society. Elliot et al.(1994) analyze the successful marketing practices of the tobacco firms. These firms have used the marketing practices to attract numerous new customers and have created new stereotypes among the youngsters in order to make them smokers. On the other hand they have made many donations to non-profit organizations, hospitals and etc. So the question here is whether the marketing authors have to criticize this practice of marketing or no and to support it or no?

Meriot (2001) insists that examples of bad use of the marketing practice, such as the tobacco industry, have made many people to create a negative view for the marketing concept and its practices.

On the other hand the creation of the societal marketing concept has managed to increase the number of the people who believe on the positive effects of marketing. Firms must be responsible for their actions and therefore marketing must help the firms to do this. Eliot et al. (1994p. 483) conclude “many authors content that the societal marketing concept is the way forward for marketing, and that any industry which ignores the long-term welfare of society has a limited future.” Of course an act of philanthropy from an oil company or from an tobacco firm will not solve the societal problems that are causing, but firms are aware that the consumers have became more sensitive to societal issues.
Marketing has to prove that its intentions to help the society to overcome some problems are truly and that it does not intent to exploit the social awareness that modern society has created in order to increase their profits.


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