MARKETING FOCUS: Rattling good reads (and they’re about marketing) - Many books are good but few are great. Our team of reviewers picks out some of the all-time industry classics

Marketing is one of those professions that has spawned an inordinate number of books, be they weighty theoretical tomes, crystal ball-gazers or inside-story pot-boilers. Some have been extremely influential, setting a new agenda for the industry. Others are useless rehashes of previously explored territory. We decided to take a look at what we and some industry notables consider to be the pick of the bunch. These, in our opinion, are some of the best marketing or marketing-related books ever written.

Marketing is one of those professions that has spawned an

inordinate number of books, be they weighty theoretical tomes, crystal

ball-gazers or inside-story pot-boilers. Some have been extremely

influential, setting a new agenda for the industry. Others are useless

rehashes of previously explored territory. We decided to take a look at

what we and some industry notables consider to be the pick of the bunch.

These, in our opinion, are some of the best marketing or

marketing-related books ever written.

Some may not be in print anymore, others are quite new, but all are

books we think everyone should read.


by Mark Prendergast

It’s no exaggeration to draw parallels between Mark Prendergast’s

massive history of Coca-Cola, For God, Country and Coca-Cola and

Margaret Mitchell’s epic Gone With the Wind. The setting is the same,

both have the same massive historical sweep and both tell a story of

passion, struggle, romance, war, cheating and intrigue. Indeed, in

Robert Woodruff, the architect of Coca-Cola’s unstoppable rise between

1923 and 1985, the book has its own Rhett Butler.

Unlike most other corporate biographers, Prendergast combines the

historian’s eye for detail, intellectual rigour and perspective with a

novelist’s sense of drama and narrative. Prendergast is as passionate

about his subject as the corporate titans who made Coke what it is


Hard though it may be to believe, Coca-Cola’s history is as tortured as

it is controversial: the mystery of its early ownership; internecine

struggles with the bottlers; a 30-year battle with the government about

ingredients like caffeine and the cocaine-derivative coca; and the war

with Pepsi which led to what Prendergast describes as ’the marketing

blunder of the century’.

Throughout the book runs a common theme - Coca-Cola’s obsession with

advertising and marketing. From the beginning Coca-Cola’s advertising

was designed to dominate the landscape and indeed it used every

available space - wall paintings, the famous bottle, matchbooks, drink

mats, trays, trucks, signs - as well as conventional media. Prendergast

describes Coca-Cola as ’the sublimated image of everything America

stands for’ but the key, surely, is that Coca-Cola represents the

ultimate triumph of marketing over content.

Dominic Mills

Published by Simon & Schuster


by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers

Don Peppers has become something of a direct marketing guru since he

co-wrote The One-to-One Future with Martha Rogers.

The book was influential as it coincided with the early days of the

direct marketing revolution in the late 80s and early 90s. Its legacy

continues as many of the opportunities it discusses are still being

discovered and experimented with.

The basis of the thinking is that economies of scale - whereby success

comes with the ability to produce, advertise and distribute vast amounts

of standardised products - is no longer a precondition for success.

Instead, competitive edge will be achieved through customised

production, individually-targeted media and distribution and, most

importantly, interaction with the customer.

Peppers and Rogers were also early exponents of differential marketing -

a principle Ogilvy & Mather’s Garth Hallberg expanded on in his later

book All Consumers Are Not Created Equal. In The One-to-One Future,

marketers are urged to ’fire’ customers that generate the least return

by ignoring them or at least by not wasting money trying to retain


The fact that many of the ideas in the book still resonate with any

self-respecting direct marketer is a tribute to the book’s timeliness

and influence.

My only reservation about it is that Peppers is a little too gung-ho

about the benefits and business potential of mass customisation. He

talks as if it is a revolution waiting to happen, but eight years on

there is more experimentation with truly customised marketing than

actual use.

James Curtis

Published in the UK by Piatkus Books


by Alecia Swasy

This is a must for anybody who works in marketing or advertising.

Bullying, paranoid and obsessive, nevertheless Procter & Gamble’s track

record defines it as the quintessential fmcg company, the model for all

aspiring marketers.

Via MBA case studies and a corps of ex-P&Gers, the company’s influence

can be seen at the heart of much of corporate America. And from coffee

to soft drinks and crisps, from detergents to sanpro, P&G is also at the

heart of consumer America.

Swasy, a Wall Street Journal reporter, covered P&G for three years and

succeeded in getting under the secretive Cincinnati company’s skin to

such an extent that it even pulled phone records to see who her sources

were. Of course the average consumer wouldn’t know this. P&G’s image, as

portrayed through its formula advertising, is as wholesome as apple pie.

Its corporate culture is so strong that staff happily call themselves


Written in 1993, the crux of the book occurs when Swasy interviews P&G’s

then chief executive, Ed Artzt, known as the Prince of Darkness, the

epitome of all that is good and bad about the company.

Dominic Mills

Published by Random House


by Philip Kotler

Yes, I know nominating Philip Kotler’s Marketing Management is like

asking for the Bible on Desert Islands Discs. We crave surprise and

novelty; fundamentalism was yesterday.

For example, marketers tell me loudly in case the trumpet is not

working, the market is now far more competitive; price has become a key


Ain’t that amazing!

Kotler’s monumental tome seemed boring to MBAs in the 1960s and its

ninth edition still does, despite four colours, topical illustrations,

lively cases, and new concepts added like baubles to the tree. It is not

a read but the discipline’s primary reference book, and should be on

every professional’s shelf.

Kotler is to marketing planning what Mrs Beaton is to English


Thorough, sound and comprehensive, the pudding has been well proved. Use

the excellent indices to go straight to tests of whatever parts of your

own marketing mix cause you concern. If none do, read it all.

Tim Ambler

Published by Prentice-Hall International


by David Bernstein

Bernstein first wrote this masterpiece 14 years ago and it is as

relevant today as it was then. Every marketer and chief executive would

be well advised to read it.

The book affirms that even if a company chooses not to communicate, its

audiences will still form an opinion of it, so the only course of action

is a planned and proactive communication strategy.

It is written with great clarity and enormous attention to detail - it

is never dull. It also covers literally every single point of contact

between a company and its customers and provides realistic advice and

real-life examples of best (and worst) practice.

It is a book to return to time and time again and is written by a master

wordsmith - I admire it enormously.

Mike Detsiny

Published by Holt Rinehart Winston


by Martyn Gregory

This book is so hot that British Airways’ PR bruiser, Brian Basham, won

a court injunction to withdraw it from sale after winning a libel action

against the author Martyn Gregory in 1996. Gregory’s claim that Basham

was a ’professional liar’ who orchestrated a smear campaign against

Virgin Atlantic won Basham pounds 20,000 damages.

As a result, you’ll find a copy hard to come by, as there are only about

200 still in circulation. But we’ve got one and it’s great. The book

chronicles how Lord King and Sir Colin Marshall’s increasing paranoia

about Virgin Atlantic’s success led to a concerted campaign against the

airline and Branson.

If you were in any doubt that much of what fills the newspapers is fed

from PR people, this book will convince you. Gregory, a TV investigative

reporter, documents how BA fed a series of negative stories about Virgin

to the nationals. By implying that Virgin was financially unsteady and

that Branson himself was insecure, the airline set out to damage


But colourful though the PR stories are, the most shocking revelation is

that BA instructed teams to pretend to be Virgin employees and ring up

Virgin passengers. They would tell them that their plane would be

delayed and offer to transfer them onto a BA flight.

Dirty Tricks is an inspiring and instructive read that reminds you why,

despite all the photo opportunities, Virgin succeeds. It makes a virtue

out of being the underdog.

Claire Murphy

Published by Little, Brown and Company. It is now out of print.


by David A. Aaker

Building Strong Brands is the follow up to Aaker’s Managing Brand Equity

but you don’t have to have read the first book to understand the


What Aaker is good at is presenting lots of examples to back his brand

theories. He also breaks down all the elements of what gives a strong

brand its identity, how you manage it, how you measure it and how the

organisation nurtures brand personality.

The book is thorough and each chapter ends with questions for readers to

ponder about managing their own brands. My problem with the book is its

US focus.

For example, the GM Saturn case study, which is a fantastic marketing

story, assumes readers are intimately aware of what a Saturn looks like

and stands for in the auto market. A picture to show what the car looks

like would have helped.

However, the book is full of fascinating snippets about some of the

world’s most famous brands. As a closet pillion girl, I enjoyed learning

that Harley-Davidson is the most popular tattoo in the US. Aaker asks:

’What other brand name do you see tattooed on people?’

Jane Bainbridge

Published by Free Press


by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield

In Waterbury, Vermont, it seems, ’traditional marketing’ is the worst

kind of profanity. But for Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of

the eponymous ice-cream brand, where tradition has been eschewed and

spat out is where profits have begun.

And so it had to be that Ben & Jerry’s Double-Dip, ostensibly their

first foray into vanilla-flavoured business books, came out as a

cocktail of non-convention.

It’s a useful ’how-to’ on the intrinsic difficulties of establishing a

profitable but ethical business. It’s a timely diatribe against cynical

late-adopters of cause-related marketing. It’s a conscience-salving

confessional on the impossibilities of ever being


And it’s a tale of how the ’two slowest, fattest kids in the class’

turned a homemade ice-cream parlour operating out of a run-down gas

station into a company with sales of pounds 100m-plus a year - without

stepping on their friends, employees or communities to get there.

Craig Smith

Published by Simon & Schuster


by Hugh Davidson

This, the British classic on marketing, is fun and easy to relate


Long before marketing strategy became fashionable, Hugh Davidson laid

down the commonsensical laws of marketing warfare. The recently

published second edition looks bigger and better but that is partly

illusion. Thicker paper provides a cunning way to occupy more shelf.

This is pragmatic stuff that marketers can, and mostly do,


Lucid and complete, the first edition needed little rejuvenation. What

it required, and now has, is a new generation of readers.

Davidson knocks complacency. Marketing means action and, if offensive

also means being rude, go to it. More often his prize goes to the subtle

which should not be confused with gentle.

Tim Ambler

Published by Penguin Business


by Peter Chippendale and Chris Horrie

While this may not seem like an obvious marketer’s book, Stick It Up

Your Punter! is a cracking read for anyone remotely interested in


First published in 1991, it charts the early history of The Sun but it

really shifts into gear after Kelvin MacKenzie’s appointment as editor

in 1981. This was the decade of the Royal Wedding, the Falkland’s War,

the miners’ strike and, of course, Freddie Starr and his edible


This period also contained the two lowest points for The Sun: the

Hillsborough disaster of 1989, when the paper printed allegations of

Liverpool supporters robbing and urinating on the dead and dying under

the headline, THE TRUTH; and the Elton John libel case, which cost it

pounds 1m. The book calls the Hillsborough episode ’an unparalleled

journalistic disaster with huge and continuing financial consequences

for the paper’. Sales on Merseyside have never fully recovered.

James Curtis

To be re-released by Pocketbooks in November


by John Naisbitt

First published in 1982, Megatrends was one of the first futurology

books with relevance to marketers. Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock was a

70s bestseller, but it was Megatrends that really made marketers start

to think and talk about long-term radical changes shaping society.

Some of Naisbitt’s predictions are spot on: he was one of the first to

warn of the dangers of information fatigue and to predict the rise of

consumer power through tailoring products to individual tastes.

While many prophets of the time were warning that new technology would

lead to the breakdown of society, Naisbitt argues that technology

actually makes people want to be together more. The current marketing

strategies of Microsoft, BT, Orange and Vodafone all emphasise

technology’s ability to bring people together, which shows Naisbitt was

on the right track.

Current developments in retail, banking and transportation justify

Naisbitt’s belief that long-term thinking must replace short-term views

of your business market. He urges companies to think laterally about

what they can offer - something that Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Virgin have


The book is full of foresights like this and is written in a very

approachable style.

James Curtis

Megatrends was published by Warner Books in 1982. It is now out of

print, but sequels Megatrends 2000 and Megatrends Asia are



by Bryan Burrough and John Helyar

This is the true story of the leveraged buyout of RJR Nabisco at the end

of the 80s, rendered as ’faction’ in a style you’ll either love or hate.

While the plot revolves around the intricacies of the leveraged buyouts

favoured by Wall Street at the time, it’s also littered with great

asides about famous brands.

In the first few chapters, you’ll read about RJ Reynold’s rise to

dominance in the US tobacco market, and its eclipse by Philip Morris in

the 50s.

You’ll learn how Nabisco used the new arts of advertising and mass

distribution to create new markets for biscuits - and about how it saw

off repeated attempts by newer, sharper rivals to edge its brands off

the shelves.

Perfectionists may find some of Burrough and Helyar’s reportage a little

incredible. Do I really believe they saw the ’delicate snowy egrets

poking through the reeds of the Intracoastal Waterway’ as Nabisco boss

Ross Johnson talked to his lawyer? No, but I’ll put up with it for the

sake of a good story.

Mike Hewitt

Published in paperback by Arrow Books


by Gifford Pinchot

The central idea behind Intrapreneuring is that there is a role for the

entrepreneur in a big global business. Pinchot provides many examples of

how employees on the inside still applied all their natural passion and

entrepreneurial flair (like they were on the outside) to ’break through’

the corporate barriers to innovation and original thinking.

It offers inspiration and practical help for marketers who still believe

in the power of the ’big idea’.

’Creativity is more important than knowledge,’ said Albert Einstein and

yet so often marketing over-invests in quantitative analysis to the

point where it is 100% accurate about a very average idea.

The books helps so much in stressing that breakthrough thinking has to

be made to happen in big (often conservative) companies, and that

marketers have to have the skills and the passion to bring their ideas

to market.

They have to be ’intrapreneurs’.

Peter Dart

Published by Harpers & Row

The reviewers

Tim Ambler - senior fellow, London Business School

Peter Dart - chairman, The Added Value Group

Mike Detsiny - director-general, The Marketing Society

Dominic Mills - editorial director, Marketing

Mike Hewitt - publisher, Marketing James Curtis - features editor,


Jane Bainbridge - deputy features editor, Marketing

Craig Smith - production editor, Marketing

Claire Murphy - news editor, Marketing

If you think we have missed some ’great’ marketing books, let us know.

Write to James Curtis, features editor.


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