Marketing, Intellectual Creativity, and Consumer Research

Elizabeth C. Hirschman, New York University
[ to cite ]:
Elizabeth C. Hirschman (1986) ,"Marketing, Intellectual Creativity, and Consumer Research", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, eds. Richard J. Lutz, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 433-435.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 13, 1986      Pages 433-435


Elizabeth C. Hirschman, New York University


Marketing has suffered from a schizophrenia of purpose since its inception. As a field of intellectual inquiry, its purpose should be to generate knowledge about its central phenomena -- i.e;, the elements and processes of exchange. However, as an applied discipline its primary purpose has frequently been to generate knowledge of value to marketing practice--and more specifically, to benefit marketing management. These two goals were recognized early on by MacInnes (1965) who stated (p. 57) that "marketing in its widest sense, therefore, is any activity which actualizes the potential market [i.e., exchange] relationship between the makers and users of goods and services. A science of marketing would attempt to analyze and form testable hypotheses about this actualization; the practice of marketing would exploit the actualization process to generate sales."

However, despite MacInnes' explicit recognition of the distinction between marketing science and marketing practice, many leading scholars of the era felt that marketing science should be subservient to marketing practice. That is, that any intellectual inquiry into marketing phenomena must be ultimately judged according to its contribution to marketing practice. For example, Alderson (1957, p. 24) stated, "More generally, this question as to where science should start raises the fundamental issue of the relation of science to action. On the one side is the pragmatic view that a science should begin as quickly as possible to handle its data in such a way as to produce practical results. On the other side is what might be called the 'existential' view, that science is concerned first of all with the nature of reality and that questions of human purpose are secondary. [My) present view is that marketing would not exist as a separate field of study except to promote practical objectives, and that any theory that will provide a useful perspective for this field is necessarily pragmatic..." Despite Alderson's misapplication of the term 'existential', his statement quite clearly advocates the position that marketing science exists to serve marketing practice.

This normative positioning of marketing science to further the goals of marketing practice was recently reiterated in an editorial in the Journal of Marketing. Writing on reviewing criteria for articles submitted on marketing programs, Cunningham and Enis (1983, p. 6) state, "It is particularly important in the Marketing Programs section to discuss the managerial implications of research. In short (sic) contrast to the analytical rigor characterizing the research design of many papers, the discussion of managerial implications is often nothing more than speculation. Too few researchers discuss their research with practitioners and even fewer involve them in the project, for example, as 'feasibility advisers'...":

Even more recently (August 1984) the AMA Education Council was asked by the American Marketing Association to formulate an official definition of marketing. Initially a Council subcommittee proposed a definition that would have effectively equated marketing with marketing management; their original definition was: "Marketing involves the integrated analysis, planning, and execution of a set of activities concerning pricing, promoting, and distributing ideas, goods, and services intended to bring about exchanges to satisfy human or organizational objectives." When this definition was presented to the full Council, a minority segment (including the present author) argued strongly against the equating of marketing - as a field of intellectual inquiry--with the practice of marketing management.

Eventually, this notion prevailed and two definitions were forwarded by the Council to the AMA Board of Directors. Marketing was to be defined as the process intended to bring about exchanges to satisfy human or organizational objectives. In contrast, marketing management was defined as the integrated analysis, planning, and execution of a set or activities concerning the pricing, promoting, and distributing of ideas, goods, and services.

Unfortunately, when these two definitions were reviewed by the AMA Board of Directors for approval, the Board, which is representing a constituency that is 15% academicians and 85% practitioners, reverted back to the earlier "marketing management" version as the official definition for marketing. To wit: "Marketing is the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives" (Marketing News, March 1, 1985, AMA Board).

This definition of marketing is derived in large part from what practitioners (and some academicians) think marketing is and it leads to the expectation, on their part, that academic research should serve the interests of or at least be useful to marketing management. Research which has no practical application or, worSe yet, is conducted just because the academician thought it might be interesting is viewed by them as a wasteful use of academic resources that should be directed toward solving their problems. This view is expressed so eloquently by marketing practitioner, Robert MacLaren Lawrence, in the July 19, 1985 issue of Marketing News that I will simply excerpt portions of his article (p. 2):


"I recently attended a regional marketing conference to present a paper on direct marketing in current curricula. While waiting for my time to come, I went to several presentations on sales management research and marketing strategy. Once again, I sat and shook my head and wondered: Where is the field going? We're not talking [about] better marketing or even [better] research. We're talking about a bunch of people writing papers for publication and no one is addressing the issues of the people on the firing line -- the managers.

When I asked one of the speakers how his research information translated to the managers for dissemination, the question drew blank stares. It didn't seem to be important...Perhaps part of the problem lies with the efforts of marketing academics to practice scholarship and behavioral science research and not attend to the distribution of the information to the marketing community at large. I do not know why.

Pure research in the field may be chasing windmills. Applied research seems to be limited to persons with consulting practices, and the two seldom appear in the same journals. My only conclusion is that the two segments are addressing mutually exclusive audiences.

In general, the current challenges facing managers in terms of operating the marketing organization are being ignored by the academicians...Indeed, the authors have shrouded themselves in a private language and call it marketing. Some of the professors have no experience at all. They have never run a budget, introduced a new product, managed a product, or done any advertising. They have no idea that doctoral tools represent a small portion of the marketing situation. In the mad scramble for schools to hire professors with the proper credentials-the PhD, which certifies the holder's ability to do research--issues such as experience and the ability to communicate marketing to students and managers are ignored, and sometimes given negative points. This entire situation angers me.

Perhaps the problem lies in the doctoral programs where the emphasis is thrown too much on one area. Perhaps the availability of teaching jobs in marketing has attracted people who ordinarily would have gone into some branch of the social sciences. I would like to see some direct impact on management policy. Modify the current format of marketing conferences to include managers, and invite papers and special sessions. So often I've even seen the most elementary of presentations by managers draw the audience of professors into an almost awestruck state.

My purpose is not to say that all current research is without merit. [However], I do believe that much of the research is geared towards getting published rather than disseminating information throughout the marketing community. After all, we should be, practitioner and professor alike, members of the same body politic. In fact, we are not...The scholars seem content to study and develop models of behavior, many of which are seldom used in the private sector. They argue about the incessant measurement of meaningless minutiae and ignore the plights of management in operating the process."

After reading Mr. Lawrence's indictment of scholarship and the absurdity of marketing academicians pursuing 'social science' research for its own sake, I was in a state of depression until I came upon the following article by Herbert Rotfeld, an Assistant Professor of Advertising at Penn State, in the same issue of Marketing News, albeit 'buried' at the bottom of the next-to-last page:

Marketing Educators Must Become More 'Scholarly'

" Marketing teachers often lament their lack of academic respectability. There are grounds for it, and educators have only themselves to blame.

Marketing is not respected as an academic discipline for the very good reason that it isn't. Merely being taught at a university does not make something an academic discipline. No one would dare assert that typing, swimming, and videotape editing should be so considered. Simply being called "professor" does not make one a scholar.

How many [marketing academicians] can say they objectively view marketing activities with the same disinterested, scholarly curiosity with which the anthropologist studies a primitive tribe, or with which the biologist watches the microbes squirming under a microscope? More directly, if marketing educators were scholars, they would not discuss the value of their education programs solely in reference to their ability (or inability) to train students for entry-level jobs.

Although the liberal arts form the basis for the vast bulk of our college and high school programs, it is rarely claimed that their importance to education is based on the course materials being necessary for future employment....Education for its own sake is an important ingredient for the working of our popular democracy; the people best able to adapt to the world around them are those with the greatest (and broadest) exposure to variation of that world.

If all that marketing education is capable of accomplishing is training students to be practitioners, there should be serious doubt about its value to the university campus.

The point is that the study of business practices could become an important body of scholarship, and the assistance such programs might provide to people in entry-level [positions] should serve a secondary role. However, if all that were offered were Job skills and training, such program would belong in vocational training schools and not in universities.

It should be intuitively obvious that when a group gathers to discuss how to train people for jobs, they clearly abandon any pretense of scholarship. They confess to being propagandists. Now, there is nothing intrinsically evil about propagandists, but their place is in the public relations office, not in the classroom. And that is the key to what is fundamentally wrong with marketing education; why it lacks an academic discipline and why many of its teachers are not scholars. This problem limits marketing education's social worth as well as its academic respectability.

How many marketing or advertising teachers worry not about improving the reputation of business, but rather try to provide the detached, penetrating criticism that is needed? How many of our programs require courses on the history of business organizations, ethical issues, or law, not in an effort to turn out "better" managers, but rather to criticize common business practices? How many courses on marketing and society are simply case studies of management problems instead of analysis of marketing's dysfunctions as a social force?

A scholar cannot share goals, viewpoints, and values with practitioners. An educator should not be the businesses' representative on campus, nor their recruiting officer or defense counsel. Educators should work for society, not industry, based upon the belief that they serve society by serving truth."

Professor Rotfeld's letter expresses with great clarity why it is that the interests of marketing managers should not drive academic marketing research and why, by extension, marketing management variables are not the 'core' of consumer research. Such a focus acts to stifle intellectual creativity, to limit our horizons, and to compromise our integrity as scholars and social scientists.

This misguided norm, which I term the Doctrine of Managerial Utility, threatens inquiry in two ways. First, and probably most importantly, it narrows and distorts the field of potential research issues considered by marketing and consumer researchers. When an academician begins any inquiry with the notion that its results must be beneficial to marketing practitioners, s/he starts out with a pair of intellectual blinders on. The researcher's field of vision becomes necessarily restricted to those areas where practical results are believed to the forthcoming.

Further, the scientist's view of even these practical areas will be distorted because s/he will tend to see them from the perspective of the marketing manager and not from the viewpoint of other participants in the exchange (Anderson 1983). Marketing and consumer behavior can make little progress as sciences unless and until these restrictions and distortions are removed and the researcher feels free to investigate any aspect of relevant phenomena, regardless of the potential pragmatic payoff.

A second--and probably quite frequent--threat to marketing and consumer behavior as sciences resulting from the Doctrine of Managerial Utility is that it forces researchers to engage in hypocritical attempts to dream-up managerial implications for their research before submission to a journal or academic conference. I suspect that there is probably a certain segment of researchers who do investigate 'non-practical' topics of interest to them, but who then must exert great effort to think of some managerial implications when writing up the investigation as an article. In fact, the most creative thinking done in some articles is probably concocting a discussion of managerial utility, when the research contains none.

What is quite unfortunate about this scenario, however, is that the researcher may have made a major conceptual or empirical breakthrough in the study, one that could contribute greatly to our understanding of consumption phenomena, but is forced to submerge the intellectual value of this finding beneath a weak and worthless discussion of its 'managerial utility'. What is even more unfortunate is that a reviewer of the article may respond by noting that the finding is quite interesting theoretically, but since it is of little or no use managerially, the article should be rejected. Doubtless this scenario has been enacted in reality on too many occasions.

If marketing and consumer behavior are to achieve their best as fields of intellectual inquiry, then marketing and consumer researchers must be permitted to act as artists and not as craftsmen, to use Becker's (1978) terminology An artist is one who creates out of an inner desire for personal expression; whereas a craftsman is one who creates to serve the will of the client. Marketing and consumer researchers should be free, as artists, to follow their intellectual curiosity wherever it takes them--even if those areas are impractical, nonutilitarian, or even anti-business. Research which places managerial utility ahead of intellectual curiosity subverts marketing and consumer behavior as sciences; it makes a craftsman of the researcher and degrades the intrinsic value of the knowledge produced.


One reason why I, as a professor of marketing, (and I suspect many other marketing professors) chose to specialize in consumer behavior research is because it was relatively less restricted by the Doctrine of Managerial Utility. There is a widely-shared perception among consumer researchers that they are less hemmed-in intellectually by the necessity of producing practical results, than are marketing academicians as a whole. There has been an excitement and comraderie at the ACR Conferences throughout the 1970's and early 1980's that derives from the fact that the participants believe they are 'getting away' with something. That they are in some sense a secret society, thinking about and talking about things 'forbidden' in a traditional marketing academic setting. In short, they are having fun; they are enjoying themselves, because they are investigating what they are intellectually curious about, and not what they are 'supposed' to be studying -- i.e., phenomena of interest to marketing management.

Because of its intellectual freedom, consumer research is considered by many to be as the most rapidly progressing aspect of marketing inquiry. It is generally perceived as the most intellectually rigorous and theoretically advanced area of our discipline. And revealingly, the majority of AMA Consortium PhD students in the past several years have chosen dissertation topics focused upon consumer behavior and not marketing management.

Perhaps the greatest intellectual discovery we have made in consumer research is that scientists do their very best work when they are investigating topics they are naturally curious about; when they are acting as artists and not as craftsmen. Far from 'reining ourselves intend getting 'back to basics', I believe every encouragement should be given to intellectual diversity and topical heterogeneity in consumer research.

This course of action cannot be pursued without a cost, however. I must report to you that in the general marketing management community and among some marketing academicians, ACR-affiliated consumer researchers are now widely viewed as eggheads, impractical oddballs, and even -- in the case of the experiential-hedonic fringe elements such as Holbrook and Hirschman -- as certifiably insane. If we continue to pursue our errant ways, this perception will no doubt increase. So be it.

Beneath this overt derision lies a sneaking suspicion that maybe ACR researchers are onto something that the others are missing. That something secret, exotic, and probably sinful must be going on at those ACR Conferences, because (unlike AMA) people are actually attending sessions; they are actually arguing over research ideas; they actually care about what they are doing.

So, my position is this:  --if a consumer researcher wants to apply neo-Marxist thought to consumption practices in industrialized countries and comes to the conclusion that capitalism is a failure, that effort should not only be tolerated but encouraged.

If a consumer researcher wants to spend a year investigating the home production of handicrafts in the Appalachian mountains, that effort should not only be tolerated but encouraged.

If a consumer researcher wants to systematically examine the meanings of aesthetic objects using humanistic methodologies, that effort should not only be tolerated but encouraged.

And if a consumer researcher wants to examine the material culture of Neanderthal man using archaeological inference, that effort should not only be tolerated but encouraged.

All of these phenomena constitute consumer behavior; all are intellectually challenging; and although none of them has any direct utility to marketing management, they are nonetheless appropriate and important topics for consumer research.

As scientists it is critical that we have the freedom to investigate the phenomena of our field with a minimum of normative restrictions. Our research should be bounded only by our curiosity and our innate abilities to discover and to comprehend. We owe no allegiance to managerial pragmatics, nor should we be bound to further them.


Alderson, W., (1957), Marketing Behavior and Executive Action: A Functionalist Approach to Marketing. Homewood, Ill Richard D. Irwin. Inc.

Anderson, Paul, (1983), "Marketing, Scientific Progress, and Scientific Method," Journal of Marketing, 47, 18-31.

Becker, Howard S., (1978), "Arts and Crafts", American Journal of Sociology, 83, January, 862-889.

Board of Directions, American Marketing Association, March 1 (1985), Marketing News, p. 1.

Cunningham, William H. and Ben M. Enis, (1983), "From the Editor", Journal of Marketing, 47 (Summer), 5-6.

Lawrence, Robert M., (1985), "The Gap Widens Between Educators, Practitioners", Marketing News, July 19, p.2.

MacInnes, W. (1964), "A Conceptual Approach to Marketing" in R. Cox and W. Alderson (Eds.). Theory in Marketing. Homewood, Ill.: Richard D. Irwin, Inc.

Rotfeld, Herbert, (1985), "Marketing Educators Must Become More Scholarly", Marketing News, July 19, p. 36.