Jeremy Bullmore spoke at the pre-conference dinner for the Marketing
Society’s annual conference entitled ‘Marketing - the Future’. The
following is an edited excerpt of his speech
If you ask a lot of bright young graduates what they want to do with
their lives, quite a lot of them these days say they want to go into
marketing. Very gratifying - until you come to think about it: thousands
of very bright graduates out there, all wanting to do your jobs.
Then you ask them what exactly they’d like to market. And they look
confused. They just want to go into marketing; to market anything:
personal pensions, potato chips or charities. Because they’ve read that
marketing is now a discrete and recognised skill in its own right.
And have you noticed those little items in the trade press - barely
re-written press releases, most of them: ‘Anglo-Galvanized announce the
appointment of Clive Thrust as Marketing Manager, Aggregates. He has
previously held similar positions with Scottish Windows, Pedigree
Petfoods, Rentokil and the Bristol Zoo.’
Is there no limit to Clive’s abilities? Now compare that fictional press
release with another.
‘Anglo-Galvanized announce the appointment of Geoffrey Turner as
Production Director, Aggregates. He has previously held similar
positions with Haagen Dazs, Vodafone, Mothercare and Royal Bank of
You wouldn’t believe it about Geoff, would you? But you would about
Clive. Production needs expert knowledge of the specific product.
Marketing - apparently - doesn’t.
It made a lot of sense, all those years ago, when marketing began to
emerge as an identified skill: and it was also good news when people
said that proper marketing was not just a skill but a management process
that should be the focal point for a company’s total activity.
But then I think something else began to happen. Marketing is supposed
to begin, metaphorically speaking, inside the factory and extend all the
way to the final user. But as marketing began to be more of a job than a
process, its starting point began to move, very, very slowly from inside
the factory to outside the factory gates.
As the discrete skill has become more and more free-standing, more and
more portable - so, unsurprisingly, it’s become increasingly detached
from design and production.
As marketing persons go from pizzas to pension-schemes to OTC medicines,
they’ve neither the time nor the inclination to learn much about the
creation and manufacture of any of those items. They simply apply their
all-purpose skills to selling more of what already exists.
All the best books on marketing tell us this shouldn’t be the case; that
proper marketing starts with the wants and needs of the consuming
public; that long before promotion begins, product design should match
And while Colin Thrust goes from job to job and becomes the role-model
for thousands of ambitious graduates - who is it that gets increasingly
The inventor, that’s who. The designer, the engineer, the chemist, the
brewer, the boffin. The people obsessed by the product; who willingly
accept that the sizzle’s important, but who get their kicks trying to
make an ever better steak.
Car companies used to be run by people who loved cars. They knew how to
make cars themselves and were always trying to make them better. Retail
companies used to be run by people who loved shops, and a hundred and
something years ago, George Safford Parker was nutty about fountain
pens. As businesses got bigger and more complex, these obsessive,
impractical, product-driven enthusiasts couldn’t cope. They had to be
helped by money-men and lawyers and marketing persons and advertisement
From that moment, the status of the maker in this country has been in
decline. And the rise and rise of marketing persons, through no fault of
their own, has done nothing to help.
The marketing leg is over-used and grows stronger. And, as is the way
with these things, the invention and production leg withers through lack
I’ve always been intrigued by gift shops, which exist to sell things to
put into parcels - nobody much minds what. I would hate to see marketing
going any further in that direction, but I fear it might.
All highways lead towards tempting horizons. Few end up in Shangri-La. I
see no reason to believe that the information super-highway is going to
be any different. As the means of communication available to us become
ever more distracting and fascinating, rightly and irresistibly so,
there’s a very real risk we’ll think even more about the how and even
less about the what; that the sizzle will continue to be valued more
than the steak; that the parcel will become even more important than the
It might even be, I think, that the erosion of our manufacturing sector,
and the rise and rise of our service sector, is in part connected with
the de-coupling of making things from marketing things.