As any regular reader of this blog knows, I’m fascinated by marketing, particularly online marketing. One of the many and endless fields that I affiliate myself with is “surveillance studies”, and my focus within that is on the ethics of marketing practices like behavioral tracking and targeting, astroturf, fake street team and guerilla campaigns, etc. (I may be speaking on this at SXSW this spring. I’ll keep you posted). My interests in participatory culture, fandom, social networks, and Web2.0 all overlap with marketing as well.
Very few academics work on “the culture of marketing”. One of the few who does is Boston College sociologist Juliet Schor, who wrote a brilliant book called Born to Buy about marketing to children. Arlene Davila, a cultural anthropologist, wrote Latinos Inc. about the strategic creation of “Latinos” as an identity closely tied to a lucrative demographic-cum-consumer group.
Of course, in the non-academic realm there are plenty of resources. I tend to find Adbusters a bit polemic and over-the-top, not to mention not always well-researched, but I really love Stay Free, an NYC-based zine about marketing, culture, and advertising.
Now, I’m in an interesting position because I’ve worked in marketing for years, and lots of my friends work in marketing. The academic viewpoint on this tends to be “marketing is evil, capitalism is evil, marketers are evil and they have no self-awareness.” Let’s break this down:
1. Regardless of what you think about American capitalism, it’s not going anywhere any time soon.
2. Likewise marketing.
3. Therefore, doesn’t it make more sense to try to work towards ethical marketing, or at least elimination of the more shady/egregious examples of the field, rather than eliminating it all?
4. And honestly, while there are plenty of rah-rah cheerleader marketroids in the field, there are plenty of people who are thoughtful, highly intelligent and introspective about their field.
Why read this type of thing? Well, first, it is impossible to study online anything without paying attention to commercial and consumer-driven uses of the internet. Even if you’re looking at open source, Wikipedia, or “Progressive NetRoots” (yargh), it’s really crucial to look at how for-profit sites interact with other types of sites, how they share techniques or stand in opposition to each other, how they feed off for-profit sites, etc. Second, I hate to say it, but marketing, like pr0n, is becoming an indicator of successful social technology. It often hits weird, emergent behaviors dead-on. Out-there online campaigns might be more edge than early adopter, but they can still be useful to think with. Finally, if you’re interested in media studies at all, you have to look at marketing (or, overall, “the political economy of media”) in order to make sense of the overall media ecosystem (e.g. what gets funded, how does it make money, why is X chosen over Y, how does media consolidation affect things, etc.).
I have a lot of marketing / industry resources in the sidebar for anyone curious.