The role and importance of marketing in facilitating exchange has
long been a troubling issue among marketing practitioners and
academicians alike. Questions like "what is the 'correct'
level of marketing" and "does marketing do more good than
bad" have implicitly played a significant role in the development
of marketing as both a discipline and a practice. In a sense, we would
also like to ask (and address) questions such as these. What exactly is
the "correct" level of marketing? Does the answer to this
question vary when viewed from the firm's viewpoint? Or from the
consumer's viewpoint? Or from society's viewpoint? What
regulates the level of marketing in society? What is the result of the
current system? Does the current level of marketing in society represent
(a) the true wants/needs/desires of consumers for products and services,
or (b) for marketing-type activities, or (c) competitive pressures and
the importance of marketing to firms, or (d) some combination of all of
Using this context, the purpose of this manuscript is to further
explore the role and general level of marketing, in both a positive and
normative sense, as it is used in the facilitation of exchange.
Alternatives to marketing as well as the excesses of marketing practice
will also be addressed.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF CONCERN ABOUT MARKETING
At the dawn of marketing thought and practice, early authors such
as Cherington (1920), Converse (1921) and Brown (1925), within each of
their textbooks at that time recognized the potential for the practice
of marketing to be perceived as "wasteful" at times. For these
authors (and the public in general) marketing may have seemed to be
unnecessary and frivolous given the context of time.
In a similar fashion, during the 1950's and 1960's a
number of notable authors (Levitt, 1960; Drucker, 1958; Farmer, 1967)
forewarned of the critical role marketers will play in the development
of the global economy. Some of the more recent criticisms (Aaker &
Carman, 1982; Arbeit, 1982; Bell & Emory, 1971; Bennett &
Cooper, 1979; Bennett & Cooper, 1981; Bonoma, 1986; Brown, 1988;
Farmer, 1977; Farmer, 1987; Hayes & Abernathy, 1980; Mason, 1986;
Oxenfeldt & Moore, 1978; Schuster, 1987; Webster, 1981;Webster,
1988) have reflected a deepening concern for the role of marketing in
society as well as a critical analysis on the part of marketers
pertaining to their orientations, methods, and techniques.
OVERMARKETING (OM): A NEW BUSINESS ORIENTATION?
Although the advent of the marketing concept has been relatively
recent (1950's), the acceptance of the marketing orientation
generally has been both swift and convincing, both on the part of
consumers and businesses. This progression is represented in the
widely-accepted business orientations framework, with firms progressing
from the initial production-orientation eventually to the sales
orientation. Implicitly this framework typifies the dramatic changes in
exchange practices over the past 50-75 years. What lies beyond the
marketing orientation, though? It is argued that the overmarketing
orientation (OM) does, and that OM is presently dominating a large
portion of exchange activity. The OM orientation can be generally
described as an exchange orientation where the "marketing of
marketing" has occurred. Additionally, the OM orientation suggests
that given the widespread acceptance of marketing, the general level of
marketing activity is questionably high, and some macro-level
externalities may be the result (and the evidence). In other words, is
it possible that there may be too much marketing in society? What lies
beyond the progression from production to sales to a marketing
orientation? Overmarketing does, and can be defined as:
OM is a state or condition where marketing resources are
over--applied and/or inappropriately used.
Two caveats need to be supplied with this definition. Although
under-applications of marketing resources are equally inefficient, they
will not be addressed here, and are not considered as being part of the
general concept. Also, instances of "marketing failures" could
potentially fall under the domain of OM, but here OM is being viewed as
relating to the general level of marketing activity in society. Thus,
implicit within the definition and surrounding assumptions, the concept
of OM addresses the series of questions raised in the beginning of this
Several challenges to the existing business-type conventional
wisdom are embodied within OM and need to be further discussed. First,
marketing activity is not dichotomous, but rather continuous. Exchange
can be facilitated within the context of no marketing (i.e., self-
production for self-consumption), low-levels of marketing (i.e.,
non-marketing), various middle-range gradients of marketing activity
(i.e., production, sales, and marketing orientations) and even excessive
marketing activity (i.e., OM). Firms not only make a decision to engage
in marketing, but they also decide on the level of marketing they wish
Second, marketing is assumed to be "good". Although the
benefits of marketing have been quite evident, the associated
externalities are also equally convincing. Not only have consumers
realized that there is "no free lunch" when it comes to
marketing practices, but firms have also realized that consumers many
times don't want high levels of marketing activities. Examples of
this include producers, advertisers, and retailers who have all
strategically limited their marketing efforts despite industry
practices. The role of consumers is also a key factor here, and will be
addressed in the final sections.
This second assumption can be linked to a general history of the
idea of progress. Nisbett (1980) chronicled the philosophy of progress
and believes it has played an important part in the development of man:
Simply stated, the idea of progress holds that all of mankind has
advanced in the past--from some aboriginal condition of primitiveness,
barbarism, or even nullity--and is now advancing, and will continue to
advance through the foreseeable future.
This notion of "progress" is implicit in the original
business-orientation framework cited earlier, and is also consistent
with the idea that "marketing is good". Clearly we as a
society believe that progress is generally good and has a linear
relationship with time. To a large extent OM challenges this assumption
in relation to marketing practices.
OM: THE EXTERNALITIES OF MARKETING
In a sense, OM can be thought of as being a unique set of
externalities associated with the marketing orientation. Because of the
"marketing of marketing", a new orientation (OM) has emerged,
also resulting in "side-effects" which in a sense can be
thought of as externalities. Coase (1960) provides a general
understanding of what is meant by externalities:
The cost of exercising a right is always the loss, which is
suffered elsewhere in consequence of the exercise of that right ...
It would clearly be desirable if the only actions performed were
those in which what was gained was worth more than what was lost. But in
choosing between social arrangements within the context of which
individual decisions are made, we have to bear in mind that a change in
the existing system will lead to an improvement in some decisions may
well lead to a worsening of others.
Externalities specifically related to marketing activities include
pollution, waste, misallocation of resources, etc., and can be directly
traced to specific marketing activities. These problems are
widely-recognized and studied. Interestingly though, other more subtle
yet potentially critical externalities such as an addiction to marketing
practices, materialism, etc. Can and do exist and are directly
attributable to marketing. Attention has been paid to many of the highly
identifiable externalities linked to marketing such as pollution, but
the hidden costs seem to elude discussion. Several of these hidden
costs, which we will call macro-externalities, will examined in order to
lay the groundwork for further analysis of the causes and roots of OM.
MACRO-EXTERNALITY # 1
The activities involved in marketing a specific product or service
are more important than the actual product or service. The marketing
activities directly related to a specific product or service is integral
parts of any eventual exchange. The key to the externality being
addressed here is the relative importance of the marketing efforts
associated with a given exchange. Specifically, what about cases where
consumers are more attracted by the marketing of a product or service
rather than the actual product or service it? In other words, do
advertising, sales promotion, location; packaging, and numerous other
marketing factors do more attract consumers than do the actual products
or services? Schudson (1984), in his book on the impact of advertising,
Ads don't sell products, do they? Take Charlie the Tuna. Do
you really go into the store and buy Starkist because Charlie the Tune
said they're picky about what they put in the can? The kind of ad
that sells, that has to sell, is retail advertising, the one that says,
Starkist Tuna, fifteen cents off.
Two important dimensions of this macro-externality seem to be
relevant here: ethics and economics. On the ethical front, is there
anything necessarily wrong with consumers being attracted to marketing?
It would be naive to assume that products or services stand alone, since
each eventual exchange represents the annuity of the marketing
components, which are embodied within the specific product or service.
Alternatively, is the focus of marketing efforts still directed at
product and services, or the marketing of products and services? Is it
the intended or desired role of marketers to overshadow the end result
with the process of marketing? If this is what consumers want, then the
answer should be yes. If this is not what consumers want, then it
appears that the result has been OM.
The profitability or economic dimension of this macro- externality
is more identifiable and definitive. Firms market products and services
and if the eventual consumer does not desire such exchanges eventually
they will continue to occur. How much control does the consumer have
over the process, though? Additionally, if firms have lost sight of the
true essence of the marketing concept, adjustments and reactions to
consumers may not be entirely appropriate.
Somewhat of an analogy can be drawn here to addiction-type
behaviors. Are some consumers suffering from addictions to marketing?
Seemingly marketers are providing a service (OM) to consumers, and in
some instances that service is more important than the intended focus of
the exchange. Additionally, if consumers are indeed "addicted"
to marketing, alternatives beyond marketing (to facilitating exchange)
such as self-production for self-consumption may not be viable
This macro-externality may also be related to recent trends towards
materialism in society (Galbraith, 1958: Belk, Bahn & Mayer, 1982;
Rassuli & Hollander, 1986). If materialism is focused on goods and
services, clearly OM appears to be an integral part of the entire
process. Do consumers value specific articles, or the marketing of those
articles, or both?
MACRO-EXTERNALITY # 2
Over-reliance on tactical marketing manipulations versus "real
A number of recent criticisms have directly and indirectly
questioned whether the practice of marketing is really still focused on
satisfying consumers' wants and needs. A number of authors have
questioned whether or not marketing efforts are driven by the ultimate
consumer, or instead by competitive pressures, corporate traditions or
preferences, or over-reliance on marketing strategy tools. Are
marketer's really satisfying consumer wants and needs, or are they
merely adjusting the marketing mix in order to provide the illusion of
Some evidence on both sides of this issue exists. The importance of
implementation is finally being recognized within the marketing
management literature, and represents a new pragmatism towards marketing
efforts. Firms such as Patagonia and Lands' End also typify a
no-nonsense approach to marketing. Alternatively, the general level of
marketing activity seems to be growing at a rate, which is at least
commensurate with economic growth. As Schudson (1984) might argue, the
Starkist Tuna is not important, but rather the 15 cents off is. This
suggests that not only consumers are addicted to marketing, but firms
are also (i.e, the OM-orientation mentioned previously).
Overall, we believe that OM does exist, and should be further
analyzed and identified. One of the key assumptions behind OM is that of
a systems impact; the essence of an externality is that there is a
"chain-reaction" of events, which results in a trade-off of
relative advantages and disadvantages. Using this assumption, OM can be
further described and thought of as a function of three components of an
OM = f (Willingness to Overconsume,
Supportive Macroeconomic Policies,
Supply-Side Marketing Practices)
Implicit in this systems notion is that there may be a
"correct" level of marketing within any given system. The mere
existence of OM suggests that the system is not correct in the normative
sense. Although it may be difficult to diagnose and treat a system
plagued by OM, further discussion and analysis of the origins of OM can
shed further light on what can be done.
Using the 3-component framework along with a systems perspective,
the next section will present and discuss the various sub-components of
OM, which fall under the three major component headings.
THE SUBCOMPONENTS OF OM
Since the systems assumption is critical one behind the OM
argument, the following scenario is an example of how, at a macro-level
of analysis, OM has come to exist, and can be referred to in a rough
sense as the OM cycle: Individuals, who have an increasing
predisposition to overconsume (if given the opportunity to do so), are
encouraged to do so by various practices in the business community via
practices of overproduction, high value-added-rigidity (VAR) products,
growth orientations, rules-driven marketing, and other forces, some of
which include both consistent and conflicting economic policies imposed
by state and national governments. The expected externalities of waste,
pollution, etc. exist in such as system. Additionally,
macro-externalities such as addiction to marketing on the part of
consumers, and firms adopting an OM-orientation to business (i.e.,
a.k.a. firms being addicted to marketing) are a result of this system.
The end result is the tripartite system, which produces a constantly
recurring OM cycle. It is argued that substantial evidence exists to
support this cycle; using the 3 major components of OM as subject
headings, additional support for this cycle will be presented.
One final issue needs to be addressed prior to the exploration of
these sub-components: that of the relationship between these
sub-components. The nature of the system being addressed here is that of
a highly complex series of interrelationships, which have evolved for a
number of reasons. The author does not claim to have the ability to
fully describe and delineate these intricate relationships. The true
nature of the system may never be fully known. What this discussion
facilitates is recognition of the phenomenon as well as an initial
attempt at understanding of the mechanisms at work here.
COMPONENT # 1: WILLINGNESS TO OVERCONSUME
The importance of material goods to the American consumer is a
well-documented phenomenon; using traditional perspectives (Galbraithc
1958; Balk, Bahn & Mayer, 1982; Rassuli & Hollander, 1986; Belk,
1985) many authors have explored the impact of materialism and
overconsumption in modern society. For the purposes of this discussion,
we will use the following definition of materialism (Belk, 1985):
Materialism has been defined as the tendency to believe that
consumer goods and services provide the greatest source of satisfaction
and dissatisfaction in life. As a result of the importance of this
activity, newer perspectives on the importance of goods and services to
mankind (i.e., the symbolic interactionist perspective, and semiotics,
Levy, 1981; Solomon, 1983; Mick ,1986) have emerged within the consumer
behavior literature. As a small, unscientific test of the plausibility
of overconsumption-related issues, the author attempted to list as many
such activities as they could (within a 15-minute period); the results
indicate that a wide variety of such activities are readily evident in
contemporary society. Clearly, consumers desire, enjoy, and need
consumption activity. Why is this the case, and what role does marketing
and OM play?
To answer these questions, one can examine a number of plausible
answers. At the outset, this trend can be attributed to OM, as a result
of the externalities of the OM cycle. As cited beforehand, though, the
issue whether or not it is a desirable trend, is debatable. One simple
explanation behind the resurgence in consumption is proposed by Benton
(1985), who argues that consumption, at times, acts as a surrogate for
the lack of meaningful work. This is very consistent with the increasing
trends of boredom within the workplace, and increased non-work or
leisure time. In a sense, Benton is making a symbolic interactionist
argument in that the lack of meaning in life can be "regained"
by defining meaning through consumption and marketing, as opposed
through other activities in life such as work. Although the meaning of
symbols has always been an integral part of the human experience (Jung,
1964), their relative importance as signified through consumption and
materialism has increased significantly (Rassuli & Hollander, 1986;
One final portion of the consumer's orientation towards
consumption relates to a central tenet of OM, namely that OM is
essentially the "marketing of marketing". Simply put, the
essence of OM is that marketing has been "marketed" as a
preferable system of exchange, or even a way of life for a society. The
result is that consumers relinquish control and do not use (or consider)
alternative modes of exchange such as self- production for
self-consumption. Society has come to expect marketing to be a major
component of the system of exchange; since it is part of that system, it
is "bought and sold" much like goods and services are. In a
study of marketing activity over the past decades, Myers, Greyser, and
Massey (1979) found a general increase in the scale of marketing
operations over the period of study. Clearly, consumers have come to
expect a high degree of marketing, and it can be argued that at times,
these consumers may be seeking not only product and\or service per se,
but also the marketing of the specific product and\or service in
COMPONENT # 2: SUPPORTIVE MACROECONOMIC POLICIES
A number of macro-economic influences exerted by large governmental
bodies have an important impact on the OM cycle. One of these influences
can be simply stated as the quasi-market system on which our economy is
based. Using a combination free- market system with selected
governmental pressures\influences, the subsequent system is a hybrid of
a truly free system. Whether or not a government can
"regulate" and "adjust" an economy as large as the
one in the U.S. is truly a debatable point. Clearly, during the
"fine-tuning" period of the 1950's and 1960's the
prevailing economic thought was in favor of being able to adjust
economic conditions. In the years subsequent to that period, however,
sentiment has apparently shifted, almost to the point of the purely
monetarists viewpoint of enacting consistent adjustment
"systems" and otherwise having a "hands off" policy,
with an underlying belief that to an extent such a large economy is
"uncontrollable". Such an undercurrent of belief supports the
systems-perspective of OM.
Another issue here is that of the growth orientation of our
economy, and society in general. In his book History of The Idea of
Progress, Nisbett (1980) chronicled the importance of the philosophy of
progress, and argues that mankind holds a universal assumption of
progress. Although growth expectations of politicians, corporations, and
even individuals have become more reasonable in their growth\progress
expectations during the past 5-10 years, growth is still considered as a
desirable goal. Using an economic history perspective, however, clearly
growth is not always obtainable, and its desirability seems to be
questionable in the face of dwindling resources and the increasingly
severe complications of higher-order exchanges. These growth
expectations also manifest themselves in specific actions on the part of
individuals and businesses. Examples of this final point will be
discussed in the next section.
Another identifiable influence is that of the lack of coordination
between business, government, and society. In the U.S., via
macroeconomic and microeconomic influences, the government
simultaneously encourages production and consumption, while deterring
investment and savings. The result is a system, which by it may work,
but on a global scale is somewhat in trouble. Compared to the
often-cited example of the business- government-banking triad in Japan
(Abegglen & Rapp, 1974), the U.S. pales in comparison to this highly
managed and integrated system.
Although the governmental influences cited in this section are
important, it seems that the largest number of identifiable influences
or sub-components exist in the following section, where we will discuss
the supply-side marketing practices influences on OM.
COMPONENT # 3: SUPPLY-SIDE MARKETING PRACTICES
During the introductory section of this discussion, it was noted
that the debate over the value of marketing has been going on for quite
some time. It is not the intention of these authors to end this debate
by presenting the following ideas and conclusions. These arguments are
presented in support of the notion of OM, and not intended to totally
convince the reader that marketing is more "bad" than
The phrase "supply-side marketing practices" is derived
from the analogous phrase "supply-side economics", where the
assumption of growth is a key factor. The analogy can even be extended
to a "Laffer-type" OM curve . What is meant by
"supply-side marketing practices" is a combination of
practices all following the philosophy that "growth is good, and
growth will solve everything"? This theme is common in the other
two components of OM, as are a number of other themes, especially the
"marketing of marketing" notion. In fact, this may be the
single largest subcomponent influence here. Authors such as Levitt
(1960), Drucker (1958), Bennett and Cooper (1979, 1981), and Webster
(1981, 1988) have all discussed and criticized misapplications of the
marketing concept. Although the natural progression of business
orientations is believed to be from production to sales to marketing,
the concept of OM and the OM-orientation provides a conceptual framework
to better categorize the role of contemporary marketing.
Additional evidence of supply-side marketing practices and OM can
also be found in the controversy over the broadening of the marketing
concept, which took place during the late 1960's. Whether or not
the Kotler and Levy (1969) or the Luck (1969) arguments, or even the
later Laczniak and Michie (1979) response is correct is not important
here. Rather, what is important is that if anything, the eventual
"broadening" of the marketing concept did make the marketing
concept a pervasive component of contemporary society. In turn, this
widespread acceptance and may have lead to over applications and
eventually OM. At the very least, the broadening of the marketing
concept lead to a greater importance placed upon marketing within
As cited beforehand, one of the major influences of OM is
competition. A major part of the argument here is that firms have
concentrated more on competitive activity than on consumer activity,
with the result being a lack of marketing focus. Two authors, Oxenfeldt
and Moore (1978) make a compelling argument for specific firms to engage
in competitor-watching instead of consumer-watching:
Competitor orientation seeks markets as struggles among individual
firms for valuable marketing prizes, of which customers are the ultimate
prizes. ... In other words, market competition is often a zero-sum
contest. There need not be a single winner or loser, but what one firm
gains come mainly from its rivals. To prevail in the battle, firms must
identify their closest rivals, learn their significant strengths and
weaknesses, and forecast their behavior.
Such an orientation, which concentrates on competition instead of
consumers as indicators of market success, appears to lead to OM. In
actuality, however, such a response might be a perfectly natural or
pragmatic response to the increasing complexities of the marketplace. It
is impossible to accurately "monitor" consumer wants and
needs, and foolish to ignore competitive activity. Which is more
important, though, versus which is more powerful?
Another important influence here is that of capacity. Much of the
recent literature across many of the business disciplines seems to be
focused upon competitive advantages realized through production. The
fallout from all of this, basically, seems to be that production
capabilities are increasing due to both productivity and physical plant
increases. As a result, inventories are increasing, as well as the
potential to overproduce. One problem resulting from this condition has
been a lack of harmony between production and marketing (Shapiro, 1977)
with the result being the sacrifice of marketing in the name of
inventory reduction or capacity justification. Capacity is inevitably
linked to market share. Some of the marketing management literature
(Bloom & Kotler, 1975; Porter, 1980) recognizes the advantages (and
risks) of having a relatively high percentage of market shares. The
long-term implications of capacity, however, are neglected often times
in the push for large market shares. Long-term, it is difficult to
successfully maintain such large market shares, and seemingly the
tendency to engage in OM is the result. As a reflection of these
dangers, compelling arguments have recently been made in favor of
smaller market shares (Hamermesh, Anderson & Harris, 1978; Woo &
Cooper, 1982). Overall, the increasing importance of capacity can be
interpreted as a strong contributor to OM.
Capacity seems to be a central factor behind OM. One reason why
might relate to the lack of harvesting or demarketing strategies which
are implemented in the marketplace (Kotler, 1978). Indeed, a stigma
seems to exist when it comes to the harvesting of a product\service, the
aura of failure. The only recent advent of harvesting in the strategic
marketing literature may also have contributed to the slowness with
which such strategies are used.
As a result of excessive capacity, firms may need to engage in OM
in order to survive. The end result appears to be a tendency for firms
to view marketing as a panacea to correct for products or services,
which, for a number of reasons including over-supply, may not be
entirely appropriate for the marketplace. This trend is evident
throughout the marketing channel, and is especially evident in retail
practices. Consumers have come to expect continual sales events, special
promotions, rebates, coupons, in-store specials as the
"normal" way retailers do business (Mason, 1986); it seems
that consumers have responded to and become accustomed to OM, as have
businesses. Specialized firms, such as the Minneapolis-based C.O.M.B.
have even emerged to fill the function of inventory liquidation (in the
event that all other OM tactics do not work).
Due to the increased complexities of markets, an additional
influence has emerged, which we label as rules-driven marketing. The
general argument is that certain rules or heuristics evolve within a
market. Thus, decision-making on the part of the marketer is
non-existent at times, since reactions are predictable and homogeneous.
As a result, such decision making, within the context of a system where
OM is pervasive serves to preserve the integrity of the OM cycle. For
example, widely- publicized and regarded studies such as the PIMS
research, and strategic tools such as the BCG Matrix serve to establish
relationships and create and foster rules-based thinking and action.
Within a system riddled with OM, the result is a continuation of the
status quo. In support of this general conclusion, Bonoma (1986)
recently cited examples of what he called "marketing
subversives", or individuals\organizations, which did not engage in
rules-based marketing, and "broke-out of the mold" of relative
contemporary strategic thinking.
A factor contributing to the existence of rules-based marketing,
and related to Bonoma's (1986) "marketing subversives" is
that of inappropriate reward structures. If rules-based marketing
exists, then conversely it is rewarded within organizations. Risk exists
if one deviates from the rules, which are established (and recognized
for "working"). Individuals who deviate from the established
normative rules must succeed, or they run the risk of being eliminated.
In a sense, this scenario rewards failure, as long as the failure was
realized by "sticking to the system" which has already been
established. The result contributes to OM.
A final subcomponent of supply-side marketing practices is
something known as value-added rigidity, or VAR. Using the classic
Alderson and Martin (1965) framework of transactions, transvections, and
sorting, each product or service can be thought of as carrying a certain
VAR score or rating. The VAR score is, among other things, an indicator
of the transferability or usability of a good or service. Specifically,
the higher the degree of processing specialization which a product or
service has, the higher the VAR rating. Products or services with high
VAR ratings do not have a high degree of transferability or
interchangeability, and therefore have a very specific place in the
market. Alternatively, products or services low in VAR do not have a
high degree of processing specialization, and therefore can be used for
a number of different applications in the marketplace. The argument,
therefore, is that due to factors such as increased capacity and a
general increase in technical sophistication, high VAR products and
services exist in abundance and are stockpiled (versus just-in-time
produced). Subsequently, the potential for OM with such high VAR items
As an example of this, think about your car, and the car your
grandparents drove (if they had one). Clearly, the number and degree of
technical sophistication (and the interchangeability) has increased
dramatically, even though the basic product attribute, transportation,
is virtually the same. This trend of complexity is the case for nearly
all types of goods, industrial and consumer. As a result, firms may have
capacity\inventory problems, and then may have to "bend" the
marketing concept a bit (i.e. use marketing as a panacea), and the
result is OM.
The existence of OM appears to be well-founded, although it
doesn't seem to be a most recent phenomenon. Has OM been reflected
in some of the well-known frameworks in marketing? The next section will
explore several examples.
THEORETICAL HINTS OF OM
The profession of marketing has always been "concerned"
about both the positive and negative aspects of its activities. With
respect to several theoretical arguments, this concern has also been
reflected in the literature. The first of these is probably the most
famous piece of marketing literature published to date--Levitt's
notion of Marketing Myopia (1960). Clearly, Levitt warns of the dangers
of capacity and high VAR (i.e., buggy-whips are not easily interchanged
with other products) and of not realizing the core of the marketing
Many other authors have seemingly hinted of the dangers of OM. In
much of the same way, Gailbriath (1958) and Drucker (1958) express
concern over the implications of marketing in contemporary society.
Although an indirect indication of OM, these authors warn of
materialistic values and the role of the marketing concept in society. A
natural extension of these concerns is reflected in the
macro-externalities presented earlier, namely that consumers and firms
have become addicted to marketing.
A potentially interesting example of a widely-regarded theoretical
framework, which has applications to OM, is that of Hollander's
wheel of retailing (1960). The progression of a firm from the low-end to
high-end has implications for capacity, high VAR goods\services,
rules-based marketing, supply-side marketing, growth orientations, over
competition, and OM in general. It seems that Hollander had some unique
insights relative to a cycle, which firms pass through, within their
respective markets. By the end of the cycle, the firm seems to be in a
mode very similar to the OM cycle suggested previously.
Although the factors contributing to OM presented to this point are
all integral components of the process, we also believe that a number of
established traditions or revolutions have set the stage. The next
section will feature a discussion of these trends, and their
implications for OM.
THE ROOTS OF OM
OM is the result of the co-evolutionary process of a number of
interrelated factors. The identification of the contributing factors in
the last section has led to a further exploration of the
"roots" of overmarketing. Seven "revolutions" have
been identified which have partially contributed to the state of
marketing and the phenomenon of overmarketing. As with the case of the
components and sub-components of OM, these revolutions are inter-related
and have a certain degree of commonality. Each "revolution"
will be discussed in terms of its implications to OM. The revolutions
represent major changes in the areas of production, marketing, economics
(Keynesian revolution), scientific management, competition, financial
management, global economics, and finally consumption.
THE PRODUCTION REVOLUTION
The industrial revolution, and advent of mass production, has been
credited and cited for a number of modern day successes and failures. In
terms of economic history, such a period serves to establish a
production\capacity base. In terms of this discussion, the production
revolution established a tradition of production\capacity orientations
as well as the actual capacity itself. The well-established
business-orientation framework cited earlier starts with the revolution
in production. This initial revolution may have had a lasting impact,
however, in that a number of marketing-related decisions continue to be
capacity-driven, and in a sense this means that the production-
orientation has yet to end. The OM-orientation described earlier may in
effect be cumulative. In other words, the OM-orientation may be the
result of a number of firms simultaneous existing at virtually all-3
THE MARKETING REVOLUTION
Although much of the marketing revolution has been previously
discussed in terms of the evolution through various business
orientations and the debate over the broadened concept of marketing, the
existence of OM and the notion of the "marketing of marketing"
is strong evidence that the marketing revolution existed or is even
still taking place. The marketing revolution has implications for nature
and scope of consumption also, in that consumers "should" get
what they want and need. This is a very powerful assumption, and holds
that consumers do know what they want, and also know what is good and
not good for them. It represents a shift in preference from
self-production to mass-production. By relinquishing control to
marketers, consumers have endorsed the widespread application of
marketing. This general trend has contributed significantly to the
current state of OM.
THE KEYNESIAN REVOLUTION
The zenith of Keynesian economics for the time being has passed,
and is historically depicted as a period of time leading up to the
Kennedy era of the 1960's. It was during this time that the
consensus among economists was that it was the role of the government to
fine-tune the economy, and that growth was something which just had to
be managed, or at best directed or helped in the right direction. This
myopic view of economics has been replaced with the accelerationist
hypothesis, slower levels (or no predicted level) of growth, misdirected
and dysfunctional economic policies, and a growing body of economists
who believe in rule-based (the opposite of the intervention or
fine-tuning approach of the 1960's) policy mechanisms. A critical
outcome of this change in the nature of our economy is that growth is no
longer a common denominator. This lack of an ability to "outgrow
mistakes" has had serious implications on business. The end result
has been an unknown lag effect in an economy, which can be at best
"nudged" at times, and a lack of cooperation between business
and government, all of which contributes a significant history to OM
One additional outgrowth or response to the "hands-on"
economic management policy has been a commensurate growth in the
regulations, which directly affect marketing. In a three-part series of
articles, Carman and Harris (1986) and Harris and Carman (1983, 1986)
delineate and discuss the various regulatory reactions, which have taken
place in the recent past. This smaller trend can be interpreted in
several ways, as an extension of the macroeconomics
"fine-tuning" philosophy, as a reaction to OM itself, or as an
independent trend by itself. The general result is added layers of
well-intended policy, which once enacted stays in place and eventually
outgrows its initial purpose.
THE SCIENTIFIC MANAGEMENT REVOLUTION
The computer age, in terms of both hardware and software, has
enabled firms of all types to use sophisticated techniques to predict
and control. Even prior to the advent of computers, inroads in
scientific techniques as applied to production and control created
tremendous efficiency potentials. In both a direct and indirect manner,
the ability and desire to increase production efficiency contributed to
the capacity phenomenon. Not only were businesses able to produce more
because of their new, large plants, but also they were also able to be
As a latent effect of the production and scientific management
revolutions, working satisfaction was found to be a concern. Indeed, the
management literature reflected the need to motivate workers who did not
find satisfaction in their work. Consistent with earlier-cited Benton
(1985) hypothesis, this lack of satisfaction in the workplace (due to
the production and scientific revolutions) impacted the worker via
life-style and consumption values. Clearly, the scientific management
revolution impacted OM, and is related to several others of the cited
THE COMPETITIVE REVOLUTION
The emphasis on competitive analysis, both in practice and in the
literature, has been increasing. Examples of widely-read and recognized
works in this area include the following: "Diagnosing The Product
Portfolio" (Day, 1977), "Strategic Windows" (Bell, 1978),
"Industrial Structure and Competitive Strategy: Keys To
Profitability" (Porter, 1980), "Learning From Your
Competitors" (Leaf, 1978), "Marketing Warfare", (Kotler
& Singh, 1980). All of these recent and very contemporary readings
focus on the competitive aspect of business activity, and seemingly fail
to incorporate the competitive factor within the full context of the
marketing concept. The result has been a glut of strategic thinking
which either glosses-over the importance of the consumer, or simplifies
the consumers' role as being a quiet "third-party".
Additionally, it is now being recognized that implementation is as
critical as strategy development. The role of competition and how
strategic marketing viewed competition has contributed significantly to
THE FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT REVOLUTION
The advent of financial portfolio management, in conjunction with
the competitive revolution, has set the stage for rules- based marketing
decision-making. The practice of treating complex decision-making
processes as an exercise in quantification lends itself to similar
management practices. For example, if a specific division must maintain
a 10% relative market share, then a threshold such as this will be
established at lower levels within the division. It also seems that such
practices diminish the importance of qualitative factors in
decision-making. In conjunction with other revolutions, the financial
management revolution has contributed to OM.
THE GLOBAL ECONOMY REVOLUTION
One of the more recent trends, which have contributed greatly to
OM, is that of the globalization of economies. In its simplest terms,
the trend is an exercise in complexity. Already complicated and
intricate economic systems have now become impossible to understand if
not bewildering. The impact has been to burden already overtaxed
systems, and impose a "new set of rules" for economic
survival. If we assume that a large national economy by itself is
difficult if not impossible to manage, then the quantum leap to a global
mega-economy makes the assumption of non-manageability even more
plausible, and thus contributes to OM.
THE CONSUMPTION REVOLUTION
A final revolution, which has contributed significantly to OM, is
the increasingly important notion of consumption. Labeled as "The
Disposable Society", consumers many times now "seek their
meaning" in the marketplace of products and services. The result
has been a sometimes-insatiable appetite for goods and services, and
subsequently for marketing. Although this importance of consumption,
materialism, and the notion of the "marketing of marketing"
were presented beforehand, collected as a revolution they have created
conditions, which encourage OM.
In the final section, the implications of OM to the consumer, firm,
society, and marketing profession are discussed, as well as a
presentation of potential solutions to some of the OM-related problems
THE PRAGMATIC SIDE OF OM: WHO CAUSED OM AND WHAT CAN BE DONE
The impact of OM is felt by everyone in society: consumers engage
in overconsumption, businesses revert to OM-related tactics, the
government is unable to properly control economic functions (due in part
to the OM cycle), and the role of marketers in society is misconstrued.
From the evidence presented here, OM is a deeply-rooted phenomenon. The
OM-cycle essentially embodies the way business, government, and
consumers behave and interact. The result is OM. Everyone participates
and everyone is responsible.
Does this mean that OM is the inescapable eventuality of exchange
within our economic system? The answer is both "yes" and
"no". The logic for the "yes" response has been
presented Here, and despite a small number of system corrections, it
seems apparent that OM is here to stay for some time to come.
Additionally, the issues surrounding the consumption of products and
services versus the consumption of marketing seem difficult to address.
In a sense this is the question "what is the correct level of
marketing"? It seems appropriate to say that consumers should not
be "addicted" to marketing. Alternatively, the marketing of
various products and services provides critical and valuable utilities,
and at times the actual product or service may legitimately not be the
intended focus of the exchange act. Overall, marketers have some kind of
ethical responsibility to their consumers regarding both products and
services and marketing activities.
The logic behind the corresponding "no" response to the
eventuality of OM question can also be referred to as prescriptions for
the future. Additionally, a few small trends have emerged which
indicates that some change has already emerged.
One such trend is the increasing number of consumers who seriously
question consumption-based and materialistic values. Although we are
said to live in the age of "yuppism", another movement afoot
seems to focus their attention on worldwide concerns via
helping-behaviors, and in general a concern for the fellow man.
Typically, these consumers do not overconsume, recognize alternatives to
marketing, and avoid OM.
Another trend is for businesses to stick to the marketing concept,
almost to the point of a minimalist-marketing perspective. Such a
viewpoint provides the consumer with straightforward and honest
information along with value-based products and services. Clearly, these
firms recognize that some consumers do not favor the "marketing of
marketing", and would rather buy their tuna at a fair price instead
of wondering what the impact of a 15-cent coupon has on the
"real" price they are paying. The ability of firms to correct
their actions suggests that the system may have a built-in correction
Overmarketing may be a temporary business orientation, resulting
from a series of interrelated factors similar to those presented here.
Whether it is temporary or relatively permanent, marketing practitioners
and academics in the future need to further examine and analyze the role
and practice of marketing, in both a normative and positive sense,
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