Marketing to youth - how scientific should you be?

By Howard M. Salkow, M.C.Inst.M., Chair, Calgary Chapter of the CIM

When asked if advertising was an art or a science, Jules Arren, a leading advertising specialist at the beginning of the century, responded in this manner: “Advertising will never evolve into a precise science like mathematics. Advertising operates in a variety of ways, has a great flexibility and is extremely complex, in fact it is like the human spirit.” If Mr. Arren were around today, it would be appropriate to request his definition and interpretation of marketing and, to go one step further, to ask how should marketing be taught.

This brings me to the gist of this discourse and a recent conversation I had with a student whom I had lectured on first-year marketing. In bemoaning the fact that her current lecturer concentrated on the basic fundamentals, was more concerned with academic principles, and did not apply any real-life experiences, she was wondering if this were the appropriate preparation for the student of the New Economy.

“I enjoy the subject, I thrive on what it has to offer, and it’s an area I wish to pursue although I am not sure whether I’ll get into communications, distribution, product launching, or branding. But I am struggling with the formality in which it’s being instructed,” she said.

In weighing up her comments and explaining that marketing is so vast, so dynamic and even ever-changing, I questioned whether her lecturer was perhaps “too scientific”. “You know,” she said, frowning, “I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. For the first time, I can now see the direction he is going. Perhaps I will now be able to have a better grasp of his methods, although I would still prefer to be better prepared for the real world.”

There are two issues that arise from this conversation. If we accept that marketing is a science, do we teach it that way, or do we trust that our academics have the notion that marketing is not traditionally practised as a science in the corporate world, and appropriately prepare our students?

What this all really adds up to is that despite the speed at which we operate, academia is still in love with its text books and the world of theory. This is something we respect, especially those of us who have spent countless hours in lecture halls, libraries and study areas.

But, let’s throw down the gauntlet. Maybe it is time for more practical applications - for the comments of this young student are surely echoed across this land.

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