Putting It Together: What Is Marketing?

Marketing is a powerful tool that serves a variety of functions for organizations, individuals, and society. Let’s take a moment to revisit some notable examples of marketing activity from earlier in the module.  What’s happening to make each of these examples effective?

Marketing sells products.

Marketing informs organizations about what people want, and it informs people about products and services available to feed our wants and needs. From overt advertising to covert “recommendations” about things you might like based on other things you’ve purchased, marketing shows us different choices and tries to influence our buying behavior.

As you view its site, Amazon.com gleans information about you and what you’re shopping for. Then it suggests other products that might interest you: items similar to what you viewed, special deals, and items other people bought who were shopping for the same things as you. The genius of this technique is that it’s marketing masquerading as helpful information sharing.

Results of an Amazon "recommendation." The text reads, "Recommendations for You," and shows five book covers: Little Lost Unicorn, Unicorn Wings, Glitter Tattoos: Unicorns, 50 State Commemorative Quarters, Unicorns Coloring Book.

Source: Amazon recommendation engine

Marketing changes how you think about things.

Effective marketing shapes people’s perceptions of the world around them, for better or for worse. Marketing can cause you to think differently about an issue, product, candidate, organization, or idea. When you are attuned to marketing forces and practices, you can exercise better judgment about the information you receive.

So, you think you know what big pharmaceutical companies are all about? With this ad below, using a strong dose of emotional appeal, Pfizer wants you to think again.

Marketing shifts behavior.

When companies, organizations, and governments are trying to change human behavior, marketing enters the picture. According to research,  public service campaigns that use marketing tactics like the one below have been remarkably effective at shifting attitudes and behaviors.

Ad has a picture of a "crying Indian" on the righthand side; text on the left reads, "Get involved now. Pollution hurts all of us."

Ad Council’s 1961–1983 anti-pollution campaign for Keep America Beautiful. The iconic “Crying Indian” ad, which featured Italian-American actor Iron Eyes Cody, first aired on Earth Day in 1971. The campaign helped reduce litter by as much as 88 percent by 1983 and won two Clio Awards.

Marketing creates memorable experiences.

Some of the most imaginative marketing is not a message or an image. Instead it’s an entire experience that gives people a deepened understanding, enjoyment, or loyalty to whomever is providing the experience.

This IKEA event created a slumber party atmosphere for avid fans of the home furnishing store, inviting them to stay in the store overnight and live temporarily in the store display. It’s a great way to encourage people to interact more deeply with your product.


Marketing alters history.

Marketing has been known to unleash attitudes and forces that alter the course of history. Today, marketing plays a pronounced role in political campaigns, policy debates, and mobilizing citizen support for public affairs initiatives.

This 1984 ad for Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign capitalized on widespread anxiety among Americans about national security during the Cold War. Some strategists credit this piece with shifting middle-of-the-road voters decidedly into the Reagan camp.


How does marketing affect you?

Pause for a moment to consider your immediate environment and your activities for the day. Where do you encounter evidence of marketing? How does it influence the choices you make? What impact does it have on your attitudes and perceptions? Why are various marketing activities effective or ineffective at reaching you as a customer or consumer?

Throughout the rest of the course, take this challenge:

See marketing, and learn.