This paper aims to investigate the significance of academic accusations of magical practice towards marketing communication, asking what might motivate such accusations and what meaning they have for marketing's relationship with persuasion.
The paper examines the ways in which four distinguished scholars (Raymond Williams, Judith Williamson, Sut Jhally, and Stephen Brown) have accused marketing of either sharing its transformative power with the social effect of magic or in some way offering a metaphorical parallel with the manner in which magic works to cast a glamour over the “reality” of the world. The paper outlines a rhetorical understanding of magic and uses it to construct a reading of these accusations which focuses around a discomfort with the pursuit of persuasion. The analysis is then extended to contemporary marketing theory, particularly the communicative aspects of service-dominant logic and the broader service perspective.
The argument is advanced that understandings of marketing as “magical” are largely dependent upon a prejudicial view of the role of persuasion and rhetorical technique in mass media marketing communication. The paper demonstrates that this view of persuasion has also become manifest in the contemporary service perspective and limits the “dialogue” approach to marketing communication.
The paper warns against the counter-productive demonisation of persuasion in contemporary marketing theory and seeks to highlight the manner in which accusations of magic have been used to deflect clear debate around the place of persuasion in marketing communication.
The author thanks the anonymous reviewers and Professor Susan Dobscha for their helpful comments on the manuscript.
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