Death of marketing?

Piers Yesterday Piers Fawkes made history.  Or what might be the beginning of history.  He dropped the word "marketing" from his description of the PSFK Conference to be held iin LA in September. 

It’s possible historians will look back on this gesture and say:

"We believe it started here.  This is when marketing ceased to be "marketing."  This is when they began changing the term and the field."   

Certainly the conditions are right.  I mean, if "marketing" were a brand, we would have redesigned and relaunched it a long time ago.  As it is, the idea stands for an extraordinary bundle of things.  It is a very messy concept indeed, and the practice…well, the practice is even messier.  Getting rid of this idea is a good idea. 

Piers believes marketing has 3 particular problems.

1) ‘marketing’ doesn’t really encompass the solutions that people are generating in business today;

2) ‘marketing’ comes with all the bad baggage that advertising and promotions has generated (e.g. urban spam);

3) ‘marketing’ isn’t accessible to a new generation of creative minds. 
(numbering, and point form, added)

All of this is right.  And new language is called for.  A couple of months ago, following the suggestion of Jerry Michalski, I proposed that we give up the term "consumers" and begin using the term "multipliers." Some people thought this was a good idea for about 3 seconds and went right back to calling them consumers.  It is hard to shift linguistic furniture as substantial as "marketing," and perhaps we shouldn’t try. 

And I am sure there are people who will say it’s "only" language, that it doesn’t matter what we call it.  But changing the term is a potentially a revolutionary thing to do.  Change the term and we begin to change the things it defines and enables, the concept, process and hiring of the corporation and the business school.  Once the term catches up to the reality, the reality is obliged to catch up to the term. 

There are a couple of risks here.  "Marketing" reminds us that we are are not just talking about branding, and the likes of you, me, and Piers sometimes forget to include things like pricing. And when we do this, we marginalize ourselves and create a market for McKinsey.  While we are chasing after big ideas, someone else is collecting the data, crunching the numbers and offering a more deeply informed approach to the problem.

It’s also true that removing a "reigning" term is like removing the head of state.  Good ideas can now flourish but bad ideas can flourish too. When we change this language, we encourage a tower of babel and the rise of still more gurus to lead us to the land of clarity.  Sticking with the old language protects us from the ambitions of our betters and the anarchic tendencies of the mob below.  What is it that Van Morrison said about "no method, no gurus"? 

I mean, let’s be honest, "marketing" is a brand with an incredible installed based, a lot like Windows.  No one likes it very much, but it makes the world of computers (read business) make sense.  By this reading, we should just stick with orthodoxy.  It might not be very good, but it’s better than its alternatives.

No, let’s not "go along to get along."  This is a revolutionary moment because so much in the traditional purview of marketing has changed.  The old regime has to topple.  It has been hollowed out by the new realities.  We bloggers in the marketing world document it’s insufficiencies everyday.  At the very least, it is, as Piers says, hostile to the new powers of creativity and innovation that are now at large in the marketplace.  We have no choice.  We have to move.   

Did marketing die yesterday?  No, of course, it’s didn’t.  It’s not even feeling poorly.  But you have to start somewhere.  I wonder if Piers just did. 


Fawkes, Piers.  2007.  PFSK Conference Los Angeles: Dropping The worl ‘Marketing’  PSFK.
July 31, 2007.    here

24 thoughts on “Death of marketing?

  1. gugoda

    The irony here is that the heart of marketing as an orientation is that is should be consumer centric: the identification of a consumer need or desire around which a company’s resources are organized and applied to deliver upon it profitably.

    Many folks on the client side of the fence practice marketing as if it’s something one does to people (incidentally they take a similar approach to research). It is more about a systematic manipulation of different elements at a company’s disposal that are externally focused in pursuit of changing perceptions of a ‘target’ to produce a desired result. Many clients with whom I’ve worked have this ‘stimulus – response’ mentality and not even consciously. In my view it comes directly from their working culture: the focus on delivering greater returns (response) from resources applied (stimuli) is as pressing as the next quarterly earnings report.

    The hope in this emerging era, in which there’s greater people (consumer) sovereignty and engagement, exchange and content is driven on their terms, is that marketers will finally have to practice the discipline as it was supposed to have been done from the start. The Darwinian consequence stares them in the face otherwise.

  2. Graham Hill


    An interesting idea. But not one I expect will catch on.

    Changing the name “Marketing” to almost anything else won’t do much unless you change the ‘marketers’ who have given marketing such a bad name in the eyes of some.

    Do I detect a hankering for a managed alternative to free markets behind the criticisms of marketing? I think history has been here before.

    Graham Hill
    Independent Marketing Consultant
    Interim Marketing Manager

  3. Asi

    History tells us that revolutions abrupt enough to be associated with a single year (1642,1917) tend to cause trouble but rarely bring lasting change. By contrast, revolutions gradual enough to be associated with a name (Renaissance, Reformation, Industrial Revolution) often do have enduring effects.

    With all my respect to Piers, he wasn’t the first to declare the death of marketing. If you have to associate this idea with someone/something and call it an ‘historic moment’ it’d be for me the publication of the cluetrain manifesto few years back.

    The dramatic changes that marketing is undergoing these days is but one manifestation…or one strand of a much wider social and technological revolution.

  4. jens

    let’s enjoy the times as they are. how often do i hear somebody declare the death of marketing? often enough that no marketer in client organizations is a stranger to the thought of massive transformation (… which of course is hard and kind of a long story because the whole concept of marketing and of the marketing organization is deeply stuck in the idea of mass manipulation and decor).
    but: if somebody publicly executed marketing it was steve jobs with the introduction of the ipod mini january 6, 2004.
    today marketers — and even more important: those who give them the jobs — are looking for all kinds of help left and right. …anthropology, experience design, design, leadership, innovation… etc. etc. .. and that is good
    the days where a ceo automatically turned to the marketing guy and his ad agency for innovation and creativity are now gone and will never come back.
    marketing may not really be the problem but it is also not the solution any more.

  5. Pingback: MediaBlog

  6. Amelia

    Enjoyed the post, but not sure I agree.

    For a start, let’s just agree that it’s not Consumers but People – that sorts out a lot of rubbish, including the way that we at agencies can feel superior as we talk about “the consumer.” It’s just that we need to wrap ourselves in language that makes us feel clever.

    As for dropping the word marketing – a smart man (maybe Jeremy Bullmore, but I honestly cannot remember) said if you want to get rid of something, I think that they were talking about western democracy, then the onus is on you to find something better. Let’s deal with the mis-perceptions about marketing and marketers rather than having to re-brand an entire industry.

    And with risk of being controversial, can we please have some pride in the term “advertising”

    Maybe that’s going too far??


  7. Cody

    Marketing is about the market, which is made up of people. The selling people and the buying people. In a perfect world marketing is the bridge between those people. In that same perfect world the bridge goes both ways. The selling people cross the bridge to ask the buying people what they want. They then go back and make said thing(s). Once the thing(s) is(are) ready they carry it triumphantly over the bridge and offer it to all interested parties in a way that is concise, clever, subtle and beautiful. We don’t need a new word. We need a better definition.

  8. srp

    Obviously, “marketing” carries some connotative baggage that those of you in the field perceive and dislike. To me, an outsider, it seems like a general and fuzzy orienting term similar to “strategy” or “management”–able to encompass many things and thus too general to be worth changing. (Hostility to the term “consumer” is interesting, but seems misguided if we think of “consumer” as a role rather than a person.)

    Perhaps we could reframe the question: What set of knowledge and skills constitutes expertise in marketing? Wbat kinds of problems should a professional marketer know how to solve? Has this changed over time? Why?

  9. Graham Hill


    Before we start to look at the knowledge, skills and experience that marketers need, surely we need to agree what marketing is and isn’t first! Then we can move on to identify who carries out the role of marketer (both professional and non-professional) and so forth.

    Graham Hill

    PS. Not all marketers are unsure about the role of marketing in business or society.

  10. margaret

    “Marketing” is not going to undergo a name change. What Marketing needs is to evolve with the times, just like any other brand, and revitalize it’s brand positioning. We have to start collectively communicate about Marketing as a revitalized brand with contemporary consumer benefits. You wouldn’t just change the name of a brand just because it needs modernize with the times. Check out what Cadillac did as a brand. Now, there’s a lesson for us in the biz (and can you believe it’s from a US auto manufacturer…)

  11. Mrs Belmot

    If historians are reading this in the future, note this down for a fact: I have NEVER used the term “marketing” so Piers is metaphorically my son in this respect, but not literally.

    Also, I was the first person to replace “Web 2” with “Web You”, which you’ll probably be saying a lot in the future. If you’ve got a way of sending emails to the past, you can thank me for this.

    If you’re going to write this in a history book, don’t put an ‘n’ in my surname. Everyone does, but they’re dead wrong.

  12. Renee Hopkins Callahan

    Hi Grant! I recall your effort to replace the term “consumer” — I recall I liked your alternative, “multipliers.”

    Regarding the current post — language evolution is largely viral, driven by adoption of replacements for words that eventually get pulled out of daily usage under the weight of their growing irrelevance. It will indeed be interesting to see whether this happens to the word “marketing”.

  13. Charles Frith

    Its the term consumer that drives me nuts. I have a picture in my head of people scooping ice cream into their mouths to take the minds off their chronic obesity….or the cheap fossil fuels in distant lands that allows it to distributed in drive-by-helpings.

  14. Steve Woodruff

    I, too, have despised the term “consumer” (finding it to be demeaning, and lacking in the crucial emphasis on choice) for quite a while, and wracked my brain for a suitable substitute…with little success. However, revisiting the challenge today, how about the word ADOPTER – which emphasizes two important truths:
    1. it contains the word “opt” – and all promotion must recognize that the potential customer is one who opts, or makes choices.
    2. it implies the ongoing relationship to a brand/offering – if I, as a customer, adopt an offering, that means I may well be a continual user, and a multiplier.

    As for marketing – I agree that that term has to be driven by a change of view regarding the first term. If my efforts are targeting a potential “adopter”, not a “consumer,” does that change how I view my role and the nature of my work?

  15. srp

    Graham: I can’t agree. Definition by purpose is not the issue here–the purposes are pretty clear. 1) Frame and communicate reasons for purchase of X instead of Y, or X instead of nothing. 2) Figure out how alternative formulations of X (both physical and semantic) will make the first task easier or harder. 3) Understand the constructive and destructive interactions among the various offerings X1, X2, X3,… issued by a given organization. We can subdivide these into narrower topics, but I don’t think anyone really disputes that these are the main purposes of marketing.

    On the other hand, just what role marketing specialists can play in these three missions and how they are to interact with other disciplines, strikes me as a much more open question, and one where the answers change historically. The current availability of massive amounts of transaction-level data, for example, is creating a revolution in statistical methods for setting prices and bundling goods. The cultural plenitude and flux phenomena that Grant tracks so vividly may be changing what we mean by branding, by social influence, by market segment, etc., and the skill-sets needed to accomplsh the purposes of marketing.

    BTW, for those who don’t like “consumer,” I would consider “user.” The negative connotations of the term (drug addicts, manipulative types) notwithstanding, it focuses attention on the purposes (uses) of the prospective purchaser.Those purposes could be practical, fanciful, status-oriented, etc. depending on the specific situation. And a “use” is a good unit of analysis for thinking about competition.

  16. zeroinfluencer

    Oh, I cant stop laughing. Stop it you lot. You made me snort the morning coffee out of my nose.

    1. Dropping the word marketing from a conference about marketing is just a ‘marketing’ gimmick
    2. It’s also classic blog comment fodder generator
    3. Marketing is the trade name for non-zero sum communications. Always has, always will be.

    Hang on, let me grab my “A post-structuralism for Dummies” manual. Here it is.

    Death of an Author: Every work is eternally written here and now, with each re-reading, because the origin of meaning lies exclusively in language itself and its impressions on the reader.

    For those who ‘got into’ marketing as a vocation for the suit, car and expense account, you may find yourself holding onto your spreadsheets as floatation devices from here on in. Piers, rightly as almost always, is noting that the trade of marketing is no longer interesting enough to demand a fee for a conference, or rather, enough to attract the creative minds who seek to play with culture and willing to pay their time to sit in a conference based around the problems in marketing.

    Conferences have always played upon the human instinct to ‘come together in a time of crisis’. (London Underground WWII, funerals, Alcohol Anonymous etc) – foolishly suits go along hoping insights will pour from the big screen projector saving us hours of (pleasurable) thinking.

    Problems are what planners seek; they use processes of design to look at the common perceptions of communication and record the space that such investigations afford. Said space is for the media execution to be placed leaving just enough of a vacuum for the audience to get sucked into. Couple of my favourite renaissance planners – Leo D Vinci and Micky Angelo did all this without the need for a conference – in fact they were massively opposed to such gatherings. You couldn’t even get Micky down the ale house for a chat some years when he’s working on large scale projects.

    So it’s not the term ‘marketing’ that should be dropped from the title. It’s ‘conference’. The various BarCamp (O’Reilly style mini events) has kicked in the tech conference scene because the audience (the geeks and lifestyle VC’s) want to talk to each other, not listen to a sage on the stage. Coffee mornings (R Davies et al) made a space for ‘likeminded’ to talk about the price of fish. These are zero-sum communication exercises where there are no intentional outcomes of such events, just breathing spaces for enthusiastic minds. Even the exchange of business cards has ceased – our blogs are our answering phones.

    PSFK need to work harder to make an event worthwhile. The London event earlier this year, I hear, was great (possibly due to the fantastic venue – sorry!). R Davies did Interesting2007 with bunting and TED talks is the poster boy of ‘fascination generation’.

    I see that Missy (Suicide Girls) is still ‘tbc’. Shame the rest of the line-up are in the business of ‘marketing’.

    Perhaps PSFK needs to open up the conference format. Let the attendees decide who they want and how it will be staged. Why not ask the ‘consumers’ who they want ‘marketing’ dudes to be inspired by. But most of all, marketing has got to stop acting like marketing, and be marketing. I expect PSFK to lead this, else, what is PSFK for?

  17. Grant


    Whoa, wonderful comment. Thank you!

    This feels like a resurrection of the art/commerce distinction, purity of motive and mind on the one hand, with suits, all venal, grasping and idea free, on the other. And here I was thinking that one of the interesting things about marketing and planners is how successfully they find joy and creativity even in projects that are for-hire. Dude, you are nourishing a captivity. You are reproducing the police state of the postwar intellectual. Planner, free thyself.

    Thanks, Grant

  18. Sean Moffitt


    You have just added to a powderkeg of a post. Always delightfully provocative stuff from “This Blog Sits At The…”. I’ll state upfront that I disdain the “marketing” status quo, it is well on the road to late maturity/irrelevancy – in that respect, I am more an advocate of the things discussed in your post. Here’s the “but” sandwich :

    1) whether it’s self-aggrandizing, headline stealing or lazy, I find it’s just way too easy to strip down something, particularly when nothing is served up in return. Apple may have hated Microsoft and been the anti-Gates brand, they’ve succeeded by offering something brilliant as an response, not just more angst. PSFK may have received great press for their event by their pronouncement, I don’t think its advanced the discussion forward. The reality is what marketing should be doing (the conscience of the customer, spearheading innovation, tapping market insight, generating and incubating an audience and community, encouraging engagement and participation, building value into products) has great value and I don’t see a function waiting to pick up the slack. Get rid of this admittedly hollowed out function and you’re left with sales and operations and a very transaction-driven climate.

    As anybody who has launched a brand,product or service, it takes awhile to build something new up. Why don’t we work with what’s there and evolve it? Let’s remember Cluetrain is almost a decade old and the revolution in corporate land hasn’t happened yet, instead of the bluster, perhaps a Trojan Horse appraoch might work better and raise all ships.

    2) Although we might like to consider a nirvana world where people
    don’t consume things, they do. With all of its negative connotations, tracking how people consume things is necessary. The missing is we don’t nearly put the same amount of energy and investment behind how people use things, buy things, create things, author content about things, evangelize about things, collaborate on things, produce insights behind things, rally behind/support things…we’ve identified about 10 roles a citizen can function with and for an organization and consuming things is one of them …. we can change the words but they still do it, and time might be better spent convincing marketers of spending time on their other valuable roles than suggesting that this one doesn’t exist.

    3) What we need here is “detente” – the harder the new media screams at traditional, the bigger their heels dig. CEOs who tend to be from the financial suite look on with critical befuddlement and gas their senior marketers once very two years and decide to spend only 6% of their budgets on online (despite mounting evidence that they should be clsoer to half) . Rubel at MicroPersuasion had a good post on this a few months ago about the divide between these two camps of rainmakers – marketers and digital-ites. There is a huge chasm in between – one holds the future, ideas, the art of collaboration and the other holds the tradition, the money and the reality of a entire customer population. The movement and the establishment.

    As Geoffrey Moore noted in “Crossing the Chasm” for innovations to flourish, there needs to be a group of people well-respected by both parties who can bridge the divide, so who’s it going to be “Weinberger” – not likely, Fawkes – “better but the traditional side thinks based on “death of marketing” demeanour – he’s too out there, Kawasaki – “maybe”, Godin – “not sure digital culture thinks he has the chops”, Peters – “getting long in the tooth”, Collins “needs to lighten up” …who? who? who?..more likely its a collective of minds who are willing to come together and not be so radical and one-sided, otherwise we’ll be hear a decade from now – with the chess pieces having moved a bit but still having the same conversation.

    My two cents to the discussion…I just hate seeing discussion that’s so black and white, when the answers are usually in shades of grey.

  19. John Dodds

    It is the perception that is the problem – and the perception derives from the practice of bad marketing (i.e that which is primarily focussed on promotion) which will be increasingly ineffective. If you said advertising is dead I think you’d get far less argument, but until products/services/whatever osmotically reach the user then marketing is immortal.
    That being marketing as per my J train definition:

    “Marketing Is Not A Department.

    Marketing is a combination of elements that creates the environment in which it is possible to meet a customer need (starting right back at product development). It operates online and off and should inform and occupy every aspect and department of an organisation. More than ever before, it is everybody’s job.”

    So Marketing is not dead – everything is marketing!

  20. srp

    If everything is marketing, then nothing is marketing. It may be true, however, that everyone should practice marketing, no matter where they are in the organization, but I doubt it.

Comments are closed.