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Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Comparative book reviews
A Very Short, Fairly Interesting and Reasonably Cheap Book about Studying MarketingJim Blythe,SageNewbury Park, CA2006160 pp.ISBN: 978-1412930888£12.99
Marketing Graffiti – The View from the StreetMichael SarenButterworth-HeinemannOxford2006304 pp.,ISBN-10: 0-7506-5697-2£19.99
These two books are a welcome addition to the marketing library. The impression given is that these are books the authors really wanted to write rather than felt obliged to write for their students, peers or practitioners.
Jim Blythe’s book is totally different to his previous efforts on marketing and sales management, including his very competent introductory marketing text. These publications have given him the confidence to write this more critical, if somewhat tongue-in-cheek, book about studying marketing. Certainly, this book, in less than 150 pages, gives you insight into what studying marketing is based upon, what the subject is about and who the main players have been in setting the academic agenda. There are also some sage words (excuse the pun) for PhD students and scholars in marketing. As it says on the cover, this book is about studying marketing not marketing itself.
He begins with coverage of the theoretical underpinning to marketing, rather flippantly termed proper subjects of economics and the behavioural sciences. The book then progresses to the contribution of some marketing gurus (Mike Saren gets a mention here) before explicating on some basic marketing concepts such as consumer behaviour, branding and relationship marketing. This leads to his critique of why marketing, in his view, doesn’t work and isn’t recognised as a “real” academic subject. However, in the course of his somewhat light-hearted approach, Blythe confirms that marketing is indeed important because it deals at the micro level and with people who can be unpredictable and difficult.
The book raises interesting questions about how and in what ways marketing should be evaluated and managed. Although marketing is not a science it is a subject capable of being studied using scientific methods. Scientific method improves our understanding of marketing phenomena, our predictive abilities and managerial competence. For example, by studying new product development (NPD) activity marketing scholars have identified the reasons for new product failure, the factors that contribute to NPD success and the difference between success and failure in different contexts. Those who take note of this research fare better (Urban and Hauser, 1993) but still cannot be guaranteed success. Hence the answer to most marketing problems is that it depends. What on, how to improve your chances of success and the one best way is still the holy grail and Blythe is honest enough to admit that he and the marketing gurus haven’t got the answers either. As Blythe observes to most “Getting the marketing right means shifting product and not a lot else” (p. 112).
To correct this notion he advocates that marketing as an academic subject has to identify its own distinguishing features and it needs to be clear on its field of study – its own unique domain. This is not new and subjects that tend to the doing and applied end of the spectrum suffer from this conception. Yet some would argue that because there are seldom definitive answers to marketing problems is what makes the subject intellectually challenging. After all heating engineers can estimate heat loss and heat requirement in a given area quite specifically. The results of the effects of marketing activities is less precise and is perhaps why those trained in engineering or science disciplines have some problem with the inexact nature of the subject.
I suspect that Mike Saren has also written the book he wanted to write. Marketing Graffiti is an interesting mix of self-penned and contributed chapters by Saren and a number of his friends, colleagues and ex-students. I’m not convinced that the book achieves its objective. No doubt Saren could claim that this reviewer misses the point but I don’t see the value in disorganised contents, inconsistent referencing style and although some of the book looks good the use of numerous pictures such as a waiter in a restaurant pouring wine, a F1 racing car, a person sitting at a PC in a row of other unused PCs, a chemical plant, two students lying prostrate demonstrating tobacco marketing etc. is rather lost on this reader. There are numerous quotes in side boxes and so on which gives the impression of graffiti but why? It makes the substance hard to follow. I also found the constant references to other parts of the book any time a key word or phrase is used distracting rather than helpful. For example, the section on relationships and interactions has nine cross references to other parts of the book in the first four pages.
Given there are no right answers to marketing problems this book is confusing even in the questions it poses for the reader. Saren’s track record in critical thought has been influential and readers of this journal may view it differently but the book is just difficult to follow. Supplementary reading comes at the end of sub-sections but references come at the end of large sections/chapters. Why? We are encouraged to start and finish anywhere we like but surely the easiest place to start is at the beginning and finish at the end? OK, admittedly, graffiti is in your face and makes you take notice but the contents here don’t. Also, because contributors have been given a free hand the styles of writers are quite different. For example, Julie Tinson has an interesting contribution on communication in a student friendly manner with numerous short questions and answers and sound bites covering 21 pages. Gerard Hastings writes a piece on social relationships in five pages while Mairead Brady writes an informative piece on the use of IT. All of these and the other contributed sections are well referenced and would fit in any edited volume on marketing, so the link to graffiti is somewhat diluted. Admittedly, the more enlightened student graffiti on toilet walls is often correctly sourced too!
My take on this is that there is some interesting and insightful material about marketing, evidence of critical thinking in some areas and traditional information in other areas. The book, presented in a more conventional manner, would not only be more interesting but more widely appealing.
The impression is that Mike Saren should be awarded points for an eclectic and innovative approach but in his efforts to be critical he doesn’t want to be disrespectful. His ambivalence leads to promiscuity so we have a thesis that suggests marketing exerts a powerful influence on consumption but that ecology, ethics, social impact, sustainability and the environment are also important. Confused? The point seems to be that if you read the book, end up confused and take a critical perspective on what many marketers try to achieve then the authors will have achieved their objectives. If you haven’t studied marketing this book will confuse you, might interest you but will leave you looking for a bit more evidence. If you have studied the subject this book will be frustrating but might also interest you. Although it is a book with lots of ideas, graphics and quotations it is short on evidence and empirical support. It therefore moves marketing further adrift from a science but neither is it art. So what is it? See Blythe for an answer.
Bill Donaldson Aberdeen Business School, The Robert Gordon University, UK
Urban, G.L. and Hauser, J.R. (1993), Design and Marketing of New Products, 2nd ed., Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ