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Time to stop marketing from being a dirty word

The media coverage of Tim Davie's temporary tenure at the top of the BBC has been particularly snitty about the fact that he has a marketing background. His commercial nous seems to be considered rather inappropriate, unsavoury even, for the role he's been handed.

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It reminds me of a recent Newsnight story about redundancies, which qualified the tragedy of job cuts with the calming words "…though many of the losses will be from the marketing side of the organisation".

As Steve Henry points out in his Campaignlive blog, marketing has become a dirty word. He reckons marketing is like masturbation, "engrossing for the individual at the heart of it, but either meaningless or offensive to everyone else". He’s got a point about the way society, and sometimes even corporations too, consider marketing (and often, by extension, advertising) as a hollow and inconsequential function. Henry blames boring advertising, founded on pointless focus group research, that pays no attention to what people are actually interested in. How can we respect marketers when what we see of what they do seems pretty worthless.

Henry might find some surprising support in this argument from Procter & Gamble’s Marc Pritchard, who last week promised analysts and investors a new raft of non-advertising marketing cost-savings in a drive to save £1 billion in marketing spend. Out will go marketing promotions (free soft toy anyone?) that don’t drive brand equity, in will come a smaller number of big creative ideas that will work internationally. Which, in theory, means fewer "meaningless" and boring P&G promotions.

Will any of this help improve common perceptions of marketers? Perhaps, simply by bombarding us with fewer bad commercials. But the message that efficient, effective marketing drives business growth and economic growth needs pushing home. The advertising and marketing industries still have not cracked this one. And all this talk of cuts takes us further from the notion of marketing as an investment, not a cost.

Crucially, though, there’s also a flip side to all of this efficiency stuff; as well as doing what it already does but better, marketing needs to be seen as a positive force for good. We’ve all been talking about that for years, and CSR has moved from a predominantly PR initiative to a necessity. Unilever has stolen a march on P&G here, in the publicity stakes at least, and its Plan for Sustainable Living has impressed investors and partners alike. But big advertisers have really only just started; yes, brands and their agencies are already diverting resources into social initiatives, but read Tim Lindsay’s letter on page 24, where he talks about D&AD’s white Pencil project, to see the role greater social responsibility can play in driving value for clients and revenue for agencies. It’s a vital strategy for brands to help themselves as well as the rest of us. And it might just stop marketing being a dirty word.

claire.beale@haymarket.com

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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