The evolution of marketing

It would be difficult to discuss 12,000 years of marketing practice within the parameters of one book, and impossible within the confines of one module. Therefore, the purpose of this module is to provide the necessary background evidence to understand the 4 recurring marketing patterns [quests] from a societal and an academic perspective; and most importantly be able to apply this knowledge as a marketing practitioner.

“How can we advance our knowledge of marketing if we have no prior knowledge?”(Jones & Shaw, 2002, p.39).

The module is divided into two chapters – [1] a societal perspective and [2] an academic perspective. The first chapter is to provide insight to marketing from a societal perspective – how buyers and sellers come together to satisfy their needs [and wants] by entering into an exchange. This societal perspective is largely overlooked – we tend to live in the moment. The second chapter is to document marketing as a business discipline – how academics have documented the evolution and designed, developed, and tested theories. Naturally, there are lots of opinions and the diversity of opinions is suggests that marketing is situationally dependent.  


The first chapter explores the evolution of marketing from a societal perspective. In this chapter we present marketing as an ancient custom that, in hindsight, has evolved in a logical step by step process. We explore – the advances in society, the evolution of consumers, organisations, markets, and products through a number of notable events. Along the way we will uncover a number of marketing insights and 4 recurring patterns/quests. This is particularly important when marketing practitioners apply their customer, organisational, market, and product knowledge in the business-marketing planning process.


The second chapter explores the evolution of marketing as an academic discipline. In this chapter we present how  the discipline of marketing has evolved to accommodate the needs of marketing practitioners, commerce, and society. Then, we reveal how organisations generally adopt one of 3 business concepts, form a business philosophy, and then discuss the implications. With a knowledge of the marketing concept and the importance of a marketing philosophy we explore the evolution of marketing theory. Along the way we introduce many of the most influent marketing scholars.

When people think of evolution, many automatically think of Charles Darwin. Whilst Darwin was not talking about society – his work does provide insight. In his book, On the origins of species, Darwin (1859) proposed that:

  • an evolution has occurred and is occurring
  • a process of natural selection has occurred and is occurring
  • changing situational factors require a process of adaptation & co-adaptation
  • whilst adaptation may produce small improvements, big advances are made through the emergence of hybrids.

This is an insightful quote by Charles Darwin. It is included because often people often incorrectly quote Darwin and suggest that he inferred a survival of the fittest.

Over the last 12,000 years another evolution has occurred and it has shaped our lives and our societies – the evolution of marketing and society. In this module we explore the historical relationship between marketing and society, an historical perspective provides context (Beard, 2017), and permits a deeper understanding of marketing theory (Jones & Shaw, 2002; Beard, 2017).

Due to the intertwined relationship between marketing and society: marketing is often explored by academics from non-business disciplines [e.g., psychology, sociology, social psychology, cultural anthropology, archaeology]. Schiffman, Bednall, O’Cass, Paladino, & Kanuk (2005) state that this is particularly true for consumer behaviour which is an interdisciplinary science that explores marketing beyond the constraints of ‘economic theory’ where consumers are thought to be rational decision makers focused on maximising economic utility. The downside is that some marketing topics have strayed from mainstream marketing and may blur the boundary of what is marketing and what is not marketing (Fehrer, 2020; Ritter, 2020).

Let’s look at another Charles. In ‘A tale of two cities’, Charles Dickens’ beautifully describes the situation in which his novel is set – ‘it was the best of times – it was the worst of times; it was the spring of hope – it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us – we had nothing before us’… To me, Dickens describes a dichotomy and how two opposite conditions can exist simultaneously. His description reveals, that whilst some are experiencing opportunity and growth – others are experiencing despair and decline. This dichotomy has long been a characteristic of the evolution of the marketplace. This statement sounds a warning; however, it also challenges marketers to seek opportunity and growth.

Established industrial countries often state that emerging countries are copying their ideas. It may seem as this is a new phenomenon, however, there are others who argue that learning from others and aspiring for the status symbols of others is a recurring theme of business.

In 18th Century Britain, there was a rising middle class. Consistent with consumer behaviour theory the middle class coveted the status symbols of those they aspired to be like. They travelled to Europe, were tutored on the architecture and art and returned to Britain as members of an enlightened class of people. They employed their new connections and knowledge, and some suggest that this contributed to the innovations of the industrial revolution.

 The railways of the 18th century made the ‘Grand Tours’ more accessible and planted the seeds of tourism. The word tour refers to a loop with many encounters. Today, many young people follow in this tradition and undertake the modern version of the Grand Tour – the Contiki Tour.

The birth of the consumer society

As part of the industrial revolution people moved from the farms to the cities, products that had previously been self-produced, needed to be purchased from a merchant. Factory workers were now focused on gaining a return from their labour not producing what they needed. For example, whereas peasant farmers produced soap from animal fat, ash from the fire and perfume extracted from plants; factory workers now purchased from soap merchants. However, factory workers were now free to choose which soap he/she preferred and which soap represented the best value.

Furthermore, time took on a new meaning, people began to calculate the amount of time required to earn the money equal to the purchase price of a product; therefore, time became a component of value. The home of the peasant family was a place of production, storage and for sheltering family and animals; however, the home of the factory worker became a place of consumption, rest, and leisure.

The economic migration from farm to factory, the ability to spend money, and a general increase in prosperity brought about other important changes. For example, production began to have less influence over consumption and consumption began to have more influence over production. With the increase in prosperity, consumers began to demonstrate their wealth/status; this generated new products and choice. With choice, the route to mass consumption had begun. The obvious demonstration of the wealth/status of the middle and upper class through luxury products is often referred to as conspicuous consumption.

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