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.
FOR GOD, COUNTRY AND COCA-COLA
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.
Published by Simon & Schuster
THE ONE-TO-ONE FUTURE
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
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
Published in the UK by Piatkus Books
SOAP OPERA: THE INSIDE STORY OF PROCTER & GAMBLE
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
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.
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.
Published by Prentice-Hall International
COMPANY IMAGE & REALITY
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.
Published by Holt Rinehart Winston
DIRTY TRICKS: BRITISH AIRWAYS’ SECRET WAR AGAINST VIRGIN ATLANTIC
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.
Published by Little, Brown and Company. It is now out of print.
BUILDING STRONG BRANDS
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
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?’
Published by Free Press
BEN & JERRY’S DOUBLE-DIP
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.
Published by Simon & Schuster
EVEN MORE OFFENSIVE MARKETING
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.
Published by Penguin Business
STICK IT UP YOUR PUNTER!: THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SUN
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.
To be re-released by Pocketbooks in November
MEGATRENDS: TEN NEW DIRECTIONS TRANSFORMING OUR LIVES
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
Megatrends was published by Warner Books in 1982. It is now out of
print, but sequels Megatrends 2000 and Megatrends Asia are
BARBARIANS AT THE GATE
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
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
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.
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
They have to be ’intrapreneurs’.
Published by Harpers & Row
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.