Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

The Periodization of Marketing: Myth or Reality? Evidence from the Scott Paper Company

Academic journal article Academy of Marketing Studies Journal

The Periodization of Marketing: Myth or Reality? Evidence from the Scott Paper Company

Article excerpt


The epochs or eras of history are signified in time by production (1869-1930s), sales (1930s-1950) and the marketing concept post 1950s. The production, sales and marketing three-era phases that conforms to historical periodization derives from Keith's (1960) analysis of the Pillsbury Company founded in 1869. Keith conceived four sequential eras based on his familiarity as an employee with the company since 1935. Particularly germane to this paper is his declaration of a marketing revolution inspired by a consumer orientation occurring only since the 1950s when the marketing era began. After 1960, a fourth era institutionalized a corporate-wide marketing managerial philosophy. These are still perceived as "the received doctrine" especially in marketing textbooks despite the challenge from Hollander (1986, 3) and others. Hollander questioned periodization and identified its ubiquity in a sample of 25 textbooks published between 1980 and 1984. An in-depth analysis of business history proved to him that "The standard chronology does not fit" (1986, 22). Subsequent studies of contemporary texts from 2002 to 2006 indicate that little had changed regarding this categorization of sequential epochal history (Jones and Richardson 2007, 16). Jones and Richardson (2007) consider this periodization a "myth". Given Hollander's (1986) position and considering the two decade lapse and admonitions to reconsider sequential stages, it is surprising that we still find the "myth" perpetuated in many contemporary marketing texts (Jones and Richardson, 2007). One current popular text states:

... marketing thought has evolved through three successive stages of development: product orientation, sales orientation, and market orientation. Our description links each stage with a period of time. But you should understand that these stages depict the general evolution of marketing thought and reflect states of mind as much as they do historical periods. Thus, although many firms have progressed to a market-orientation, some are still mired in a product or sales orientation... (Etzel et al., 2007, 6-7).

Following Hollander's (1986), Fullerton's (1988) and Jones and Richardson's (2007) suggestions to correct the record by documenting history, we probe the "myth" of periodization. The paper presents evidence obtained from the J. Walter Thompson Company (JWT) archives to demonstrate early twentieth-century brand strategy that focused on the needs of the consumer, thus questioning the position of sequential development of the marketing concept. The paper begins with a brief review of the origins of the current thinking of marketing periodization. We then probe early consumer-oriented marketing at the J. Walter Thompson Company, and Scott Paper company's toilet tissue campaign that questions the logic of marketing periodization.


The formation of the recent thinking that marketing evolved episodically was heavily influenced by Keith's (1960) Pillsbury case. Keith maintains that it was during the 1950s marketing revolution that "For the first time we began to be highly conscious of the consumer, her wants, and her prejudices, as a key factor in the business equation. We established a commercial research department to provide us with facts about the market" (1960, 36). This observation was based on Pillsbury's growing awareness that selective product differentiation could increase sales. As Director and Executive Vice President at Pillsbury in the refrigeration and grocery products divisions, he observed in the 1950s that the company "faced for the first time the necessity for selecting the best new products. We needed a set of criteria for selecting the kinds of products we would manufacture" (1960, 37). Thus, Pillsbury configured new management under a "marketing department." As Keith describes it, "This department developed the criteria which we would use in developing which products to market. …

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