All together now: what is marketing?
The pernicious practice of defining, infinitely deconstructable in terms of possible but silent alternatives (Derrida, 1979) is a major obsession of marketing text writers. The definitive project in marketing is itself ideological in character (Heilbrunn, 1996, p.114) in that definitions carry silent but constitutive paradigmatic presumptions. Baker ( 1991) offers a broad treatment of marketing definitions which positions marketing as a sort of genetically modified hybrid management field (inter)bred from microeconomics, statistical mathematics and psychology. A number of definitive themes are corralled into service, including the management process and organisational function narrative, the economic distribution/consumer behaviour narrative, and the broader, more nebulous exchange narrative (Drucker, 1954; Converse and Huegy 1965; Halbert, 1965; Bartels, 1968; Kotler, 1972; Baker,  1991, p. 19-20, citing Brech, 1953). A more recent UK survey of numerous definitions of marketing found that they had ‘broadened’ and ‘softened’ demonstrating that ‘marketing and its guardians (my italics) continue to foster its open and innovative culture’ and yet ‘this latitude has allowed ambiguity to creep into its definition … definitional clarity is essential in the future’ (Gibson et al., 1993, quoted in Baker, 2000, p. 18). So marketing is produced as the orthodox religion but its kindly priests have been just a little too forgiving of transgressions: let finger-wagging commence. Such transparently quasi-religious discourse is all too common in mainstream marketing (Brown, 1999a) and all the sadder for having been written by authors who would probably be astonished to see their work interpreted in this perverse way. ‘Marketing and its guardians’: yikes! ‘Open and innovative culture’: so it is worthy of remark that a scholarly enterprise is not intellectually autistic. Can you imagine reading anything similar in a work on, say, history? ‘The guardians of history again confirm their open and innovative culture through the variability allowed in definitions of
history. But (naturally) greater definitive rigour is essential in the future’. Or English literature: ‘A survey of five hundred definitions of English literature found some unnerving variability which, while commendable, was considered (by the Guardians) to be promoting a dangerous sense of ambiguity which could unsettle students.’ Even psychology, an insecure, physics-envying social science at a similar adolescent stage as marketing would never shore up the intellectual claims of its experimental, cognitive mainstream with such risible representations. Psychology is a multidisciplinary social scientific enterprise with many strands, dominated, like marketing, by major storylines of quantification and cognitivism but it has, I think, grown out of spurious questions of definitive precision. And this definitist absurdism in a book positioned as a ground-breaking contribution to marketing ‘theory’ studies for the intellectual edification of advanced marketing students studying ‘capstone’ under-or postgraduate marketing courses (Baker, 2000). Blimey. I actually like the book: its just that it’s embarrassing that marketing education has taken so long to produce a book of ‘theory’ intended for marketing students. The introduction of more theory into postgraduate marketing studies has been a stated priority of marketing academics for decades (Howard et al., 1991, who cite Piercy et al., 1982, as authority). I’m not certain that Professor Piercy still feels the same way about theory in marketing (Piercy, 1999) but you’d have to ask him yourself really. Anyway, it is clear that the mills of marketing education grind very slow indeed: academic marketing research’s brief but passionate engagement with philosophy of scientific method (Kavanagh, 1994) seems to have petered out into a defensive and insular scientism (Day and Montgomery, 1999) in which quantification is a metaphor for theory, assertion is a metaphor for argument and metaphor is a metaphor for, er … metaphor (not forgetting that marketing is a metaphor for everything). Baker (2000) is a rare excursion into marketing’s theory zone but it’s sad that the book is positioned as a rather advanced supplementary read when a good social studies degree would have it on their year one reading list. But the editor and publishers know that most marketing courses are so educationally incoherent that anything which can’t be expressed in bullet points and short sentences is considered to be ‘theory’ and ‘theory’ is (still) often positioned as a vaguely unspeakable and definitely unsound dirty habit in the ‘practitioner-focused’ pedagogic model of marketing education.