Activity: notable events that shaped society & marketing

Stephen Fanning

In this activity we explore the evolution of marketing and society; our objective is to learn from the past, identify the historical patterns, and be able to recognise how this knowledge can assist marketing practitioners to design and develop best satisfying products in the future.


The relationship between marketing and the consumption patterns of society and is an area of investigation not only by marketing academics and but also by academics from non-business disciplines [e.g., psychology, sociology, social psychology, cultural anthropology, archaeology]. This interdisciplinary research of marketing and society is important as other business disciplines generally have a limited view of consumers; preferring to see consumers through the lens of ‘economic theory’ where consumers are thought to be rational decision makers focused on maximising economic utility (Schiffman, Bednall, O’Cass, Paladino, & Kanuk, 2005).

The evolution continues.

In recent years, we have seen the  retail market splinter into a traditional marketplace and a digital marketspace, and then even more quickly re-organise into a new omni-channel form [the organism metaphor in organisation was well chosen]. Today’s, omni-channel marketplace is an interactive mix of the traditional marketplace and the digital marketspace. Retailers who have adopted an omni-channel marketing approach advocate that customers should not be considered as face2face or digital shoppers – they should be viewed as customers who freely move between one platform and another [I know I do]. Progressive marketing practitioners no longer see marketing as traditional marketing and digital marketing they simply see it as marketing – with one aim – to best satisfy the needs of their customers and their organisation.

Author’s comment: As a marketing academic, who is interested in the history of marketing, it is fascinating to observe how today’s market is evolving. Moreover, in my lifetime, as a consumer, traditional approaches have been challenged and discarded and new methods adopted. What fascinates me is how easily disruptive innovations are adopted by consumers when 5 conditions are present; according to Rogers (1965) they are:

    1. the innovation offers a relative advantage for consumers
    2. the innovation creates minimal disruption and is easily employed by the consumer
    3. the innovation is simple to comprehend
    4. the innovation is easy to trial
    5. the benefits other consumers receive from the innovation can easily be observed

To meet their marketing objectives, marketing practitioners are adopting new tools to collect and analyse information, design and develop new products and strategies, and implement and evaluate their marketing strategies [in section 3 we discuss the CADDIE approach to business-marketing planning]. Marketing practitioners are finding new ways of communicating with the market – new ways of promoting. Caution is still needed as some tools are promoted as ‘game changing’ tools and perhaps they are being oversold. What history tells us is that some will endure, others will be merged into other tools, and others will fail to be adopted and disappear – this natural selection process is part of the recurring patterns in the evolution of marketing.

As with earlier innovations in marketing, new challenges will arise and when society has been negatively effected and/or affected, new regulations will be introduced – this is all part of the recurring patterns in the evolution of marketing.

The key point is that – we are experiencing a notable event in marketing practice and a process of natural selection by customers will negatively impact those organisations that fail to adapt and best satisfy their customers – this is all part of the recurring patterns in the evolution of marketing – we are certainly witnessing this in the retail sector.

An exploration of the notable events in marketing and society reveals 4 recurring patterns or quests [see evolution of marketing a societal perspective].


  1.  After studying the evolution of marketing and the 4 recurring patterns or quests consider the following notable events.
  2. Explore a few of the topics [wikipedia is ideal place to start] to gain an holistic feel.
  3. Then select one and explore it in greater detail. 
  4. Consider this with the 4 recurring patterns or quest in mind 

 Consider the following notable events in marketing and society:

  • The Neolithic revolution of domestication of people, animals and crops.
  • Storing and preserving of food
  • The formation of markets where buyers and sellers came together
  • The minting of money to facilitate exchanges beyond bartering
  • The establishment of standard weights to facilitate a fairer exchange
  • Paper permitted people to keep records and communicate
  • The printing press facilitated the mass production of promotional materials, posters, catalogues, newspapers, magazines
  • Mail services permitted the catalogues to be distributed, products ordered and delivered
  • The prosperity that resulted from industrialisation
  • Greater wealth generated choice – mass consumption
  • Factories became places of labour
  • The 8+8+8 hour day resulted in the leisure sector
  • Homes evolved from places of work to places of rest and leisure
  • Mass distribution of information, products, and people
  • Advances in steel construction facilitated larger buildings [e.g., department stores]
  • Universal education enabled people to read, write, calculate and communicate
  • The sewing machine enabled ready to wear clothing to be mass produced
  • The zipper enabled the manufacture of different types of clothing
  • The mirror allowed people to view their appearance
  • Advances in ship construction led to international trade
  • Gas and then electric lighting permitted longer trading hours and safer cities
  • Plate glass enabled the display window and enhanced promotion activities
  • The mannequin facilitated the display of clothes
  • The cash register facilitated sales dockets, accountability [evolution]
  • The telephone enabled B2B and B2C communication
  • Vending machine provided convenience
  • The motor car gave independence and influenced urban design and the shopping mall
  • The chain store allowed retailers to buy in bulk and to distribute widely
  • The shopping trolley provided convenience and a greater spend
  • Radio enabled organisations to promote their product
  • Refrigeration extended the life of perishables and a more acceptable delivery temperature
  • Airconditioning provided the ability to shop in comfort – all year
  • Television and the widespread adoption enabled mass distribution of information
  • Reward programs gave frequent customers discounts
  • The shipping container reduced costs of international trade
  • Banking innovations, the automatic teller machine, the credit card
  • House brands provided competition to established brands
  • Visual merchandising software [planogram] enabled retail managers to manage store layout
  • The internet, advanced TV shopping channels, propagated new entrants

Search the history of:

  • Bread: Explore how bread shaped society
  • Salt: Explore how salt was used to preserve and flavour food
  • Beer: Explore how beer has influenced business practices
  • Cheese: Explore how cheese was first produced
  • Tea: Explore how tea has influenced business practices
  • Wine and wine gods: Explore how wine was once seen as a miracle
  • Fermented foods: fermented foods that are still produced and consumed today
  • Preserving: fruits, meats etc
  • The gramophone and the diffusion of music

Search the following topics:

  • King’s Lynn and the Hanseatic League. What was it and what was its purpose? From what period did it operate?
  • The Crannogs of Scotland provide an insight to the challenges facing new communities. Describe a few and how these communities overcame the challenges.
  • Innovations of the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel. What areas did Brunel influence? Were his innovations a quest for best?
  • What was the role of Portugal in finding new products and new markets?
  • The Dutch East India Company is often presented as the first international corporation. Provide a brief overview of how they influenced markets.
  • The history of Unilever: Explore the breadth and depth of Unilever products. The Lever brothers and Port Sunlight: Explore the origins and the intentions.
  • Unilever today has a number of brands. Identify Unilever’s present brand portfolio.
  • George Cadbury and Bourneville. What type of village did Cadbury establish at Bourneville? After researching this topic, what are your conclusions?
  • Henry and Joseph Rowntree. What are the products/brands that they established? Do the brands still exist today? Why were the brands attractive to Nestle?
  • When was Nestle established. What product categories did they initially focus? What are some of the brands in their portfolio?
  • Quakers and business. Explore how Quakers established successful businesses after the industrial revolution, how they treated their workers and the results they achieved.
  • Robert Owen as one of the pioneers, better working conditions, worker co-operatives, and advocate for worker welfare at New Lanark [Scotland]
  • The history of the eight-hour day: How did the eight-hour day influence leisure? How did having leisure time influence sport [Australian readers may check out the relationship between leisure time and the AFL].
  • How innovations in retailing were introduced adopted and diffused throughout the world. Select one of the following – Burlington Arcade in London, La Bon Marche in Paris, Galleria in Milan, QV Building in Sydney. The history of Marshall Field’s department store in Chicago. The history of Selfridges Department store in London.

The following is a summary of notable events & worth viewing


click image below to access modules

error: Alert: Content is protected !!