New initiative grapples with tired clichés

Journal of Marketing Communications
February 12, 1999

New," claimed David Ogilvy, who founded the successful Ogilvy and Mather advertising agency, "is one of the most powerful words in the advertising dictionary." Ogilvy adduced no evidence in support of his claim, but nonetheless the advertising industry adopted it with enthusiasm. Advertising and marketing people love all things new: new products, new media, new campaigns, new fashions, new "philosophies" (and as often as not, new spouses).

Despite Ogilvy's dictum, however, the reality is that most new things fail. That is especially true in marketing, where relatively few new products, new fashions and new campaigns really do the business. Every study shows that an astonishingly high proportion of new products quickly bite the dust.

So the editor and publishers of the Journal of Marketing Communications must have been more aware than most that they were taking a small but real gamble when they launched this new publication four years ago. And it is unclear whether the gamble has paid off: the jury is still out.

It would be neither unkind nor inaccurate to say that the journal is taking time to find its feet. Ogilvy may have believed that plastering the word "new" on to almost anything would be sufficient to make it appealing, but that is clearly not true of academic publications. And a new academic magazine needs to attract not only readers; the journal has clearly found attracting top-flight authors an uphill task.

In its launch editorial, in what marketing people would nowadays call its "mission statement", the journal rightly sets itself the objective of covering not just advertising, but all forms of marketing communication - including public relations, sales promotion, personal selling and what it calls "the emergent areas such as direct mail, direct marketing, sponsorship and integrated marketing communications, ie the 'one voice' objective".

The "one voice" objective is a trendy bandwagon, widely popular in marketing circles. Innumerable seminars, articles and speeches by marketing panjandrums today focus on the need to integrate the many different types of marketing communications that most companies now employ, and explore the difficulties involved in doing so. It is a real problem. But sadly, four years after its launch, and despite its declared intentions, few of the 60-odd papers published here have thrown any useful light on the subject.

Instead, fashionable marketing opinions have been embraced with little questioning. This is one of the journal's principal weaknesses. Maybe it was endemic in the original aims; maybe it is the lack of authoritative contributors. But while it may be acceptable for the practitioners to latch on to hypotheses without studying the facts, this is unacceptable in an academic journal. Time and again articles make claims that nobody who has any knowledge of marketing history could take seriously. Manifestly the journal's contributors, too, have been seduced by the glamour of the word "new". To give just one example: the so-called "emergent" areas of direct mail and direct marketing were far more important at the end of the 19th century than they are at the end of the 20th. But from the first editorial onwards, not a single contributor has shown the least inkling of this fact.

Despite this lack of historical perspective, the quality of the articles is indubitably getting better. In recent issues, for example, papers comparing the differing implications of using male or female salespeople (by Jane Z. Sojka and Patriya Tansuhaj), the effectiveness of trade exhibitions (by Jim Blythe), and the commercial results of corporate philanthropy (by Roger Bennett) - have all explored relatively untrodden paths, and more importantly focused on specialist but significant subjects that might find no outlet in other publications.

Nonetheless the journal spends too much of its precious space regurgitating popular marketing wisdom, clothing cliches in academic language. Unless it publishes articles that challenge conventional wisdom and cover uncharted territory, it will win neither academic plaudits nor a business readership.

Winston Fletcher is chairman, Bozell UK Group.

Journal of Marketing Communications: (four times a year)

Editor - Philip Kitchen
ISBN - ISSN 1352 7266
Publisher - Routledge
Price - £45.00 (individuals); £5.00 (institutions)
Pages - -

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