Marketing's Greatest Challenge
Does a sustainable agenda which decrees we must consume less to save the planet spell the end of marketing? On the contrary, says Jeremy Bullmore - together we have a key role to play in inspiring and inventing the solutions Marketing's greatest challenge
A LOT has been written over recent years about the end of things. The End of History turned out to be a little premature as did The End of Paper and The End of Advertising. But there's now a good case to be made for The End of Marketing.
Ever since production first met and then exceeded natural demand, marketing has been a force. Marketing was active long before the word marketing was even in use. As recently as 1957, when Vance Packard published The Hidden Persuaders
, marketing people were called merchandisers. But marketing as an activity dates back to the Industrial Revolution and beyond and is universally understood to be all about encouraging consumption.
Marketing departments have marketing budgets and marketing targets. Those targets are invariably about growth: more volume, more share of market, more profit or more of all three; but always more. Huge sums of money are directed at persuading more people to consume more quantities of more things more often. That's marketing. No annual marketing plan in history has committed its budget to achieving less of everything. Marketing is all about more.
And now comes a tipping point. For years, concern about the finite nature of the world's resources and the effect of consumption on our environment has been a strictly minority preoccupation. To most of us, it was all a bit like homeopathy: worthy, reassuringly harmless, probably containing more than a grain of truth - but hopelessly at odds with the irreversible trends of modern science and technology. Ecologists, like herbalists, knitted their own kaftans.
Almost overnight, all that's changed. Timescales remain unclear and challenged but the inevitable consequences of unchanged behaviour are not. Unless we move from more to less, there won't be a habitable planet for our descendants. Not may not be. Won't be
So it stands to reason, doesn't it, that environmentalism and marketing are inimical? If we're to come to our senses, and have any hope of survival, marketing must be severely shackled. If obesity in children is an acknowledged problem, it stands to reason that we must ban the advertising to children of cheese and onion potato chips. Sustainability is a vastly bigger challenge - but surely the cheese-and-onion model is the one to follow?
Well, no as a matter of fact. Just because marketing has been overwhelmingly employed in the pursuit of increased consumption, marketing has become virtually synonymous with selling - and it's not.
Real marketing doesn't begin outside the factory gates, simply employed to get rid of what's already been made. Real marketing begins with an understanding of what people want; or more importantly, what they might want - were it made available, at an affordable price, and drawn to their attention. Real marketing begins with visionaries and hypotheses and R&D departments and experiment and feedback and pilot schemes and trial and error. Far from being the end of marketing, our new enlightenment about climate change presents marketing with its greatest ever test.
Developing the hybrid car, an intensified drive to find ways to store electricity, more efficient appliances, wind turbines that do more than power a hair dryer, aesthetically pleasing solar panels: all being well, in even ten years' time, the inadequacy of such a list will seem comically quaint. Indeed, it already is. But the job of proper marketing will be the same as it always has been: to inspire and direct invention. And only then, through communication and persuasion, to speed its adoption.
Real marketing has always benefited both producer and consumer; there's been no fundamental conflict of interest. So it's not the end of marketing; it's marketing's most demanding opportunity to demonstrate its value.
For all our sakes, it had better deliver.
Jeremy Bullmore is a member of WPP's Advisory Board. Jeremy's book, Apples, Insights and Mad Inventors - an Entertaining Analysis of Modern Marketing
is published by Wiley and is available from Amazon and other major book sellers. Source: The WIRE - Issue 26 - Page 3, published September 2007