The Vocation of Macromarketers

11 minute read

Good Evening Friends, Colleagues and Macromarketing Delegates:

First, we extend our sincerest appreciations to this year’s conference organizers–Cliff Shultz, Ray Benton and Olga Kravets–as well as to The Loyola University of Chicago for hosting this gathering—the 40th Annual Macromarketing Society conference. In human years, our Society is “middle aged”, but I would contend, organizationally, we are just hitting stride because, as colleague Mark Peterson once put it, ‘the world needs Macromarketers more than ever’.1

The poet Carl Sandberg characterized this metropolis of Chicago as the “City of the big shoulders” because of the essential work it renders the world.2 We, macromarketing scholars, also have fundamental labors to accomplish, although our undertakings are more esoteric.

Today, as we set about the joyous task of discussing our various scholarships, I think it is appropriate to remind ourselves of the nature and scope of the collective Calling in which we engage. Shelby Hunt succinctly defined “macromarketing” as the study of the interaction of markets, marketing and society– three connected realms of inquiry.3 This definition remains helpful because it rightly circumscribes our main research targets BUT it does not normatively speak to our greater hopes and ideals.

This evening, I want to briefly address what might be our higher purpose, our guiding aspirations … our fundamental vocation as Macromarketers. To begin, we ought to understand that a Vocation is a “life calling”–a reflective inspiration that vitalizes and renews our on-going work.4 Discerning the nature of one’s vocation—knowing what we are called on to do–can help us academics be more clear-minded about our Society’s distinctiveness, the scholarship we choose pursue and the constituencies we serve.

Here is my thesis about the labors—the Calling— of Macromarketers:

We Macromarketers seek to analyze how markets most effectively apportion resources. And, because the marketing system embodies the technologies that allocate for all stakeholders, we seek to comprehensively examine the exchange dynamics of the Agora.5 In so doing, we strive by our understandings to shape “markets and marketing” for their betterment such that outcomes are not only efficient but also more sustainable, equitable and directed to societal prosperity.

That then, is why we “research”. Our conference theme—Marketing as provisioning technology: Integrating perspectives on solutions for Sustainability, Prosperity and Social justice—captures these vocational ideals quite well.

Now let’s rapidly unpack the three main elements of Macromarketing, in the context of Vocation, starting with Marketing.


Our disciplinary focus—Academic Marketing—flows from the institutions and activities of service exchange.6 Marketing theory has rightly elevated the consumer to a special status—as the legendary Peter Drucker7 wrote: “There is only one valid purpose to business: to create and retain customers.” And yet, many market sectors are not especially consumer-focused but, instead, are bottom line obsessed.8 For example, some marketers claim customer orientation as their guiding mission but then they stack passengers into airplanes like cattle; or delay product recalls madated for user safety or exploit customer privacy. And, even when the majority of buyers are satisfied, marketing practices are often damaging to secondary stakeholders or create negative externalities for the community. For instance, the global obesity epidemic is partly fueled by the successful marketing of sugared drinks, fast food and fatty snacks9. And, ‘we happy consumers’ are also part of the problem–addicted to polluting life-styles and a rapacious consumption of resources. (Sad Fact: Did you know 1700 private jets flew into this year’s World Economic Conference in Davos, Switzerland?—with its apparently ironic theme of ecological and social sustainability).10

Some of us realize that there is an unholy alliance between our desire for abundant, inexpensive products and the abuses that we collectively tolerate—whether exploitation of cheap labor, environmental pollution or intellectual property theft from indigenous peoples. Micromarketers, those mavens of more growth and higher profits, mostly fail to look deeply enough at negative secondary effects; they exhibit an arrogant overconfidence in the righteousness of their micro-models and thus have become “inauthentic” and contributors to negative economic fallout.11 And we consumers, distracted and weakened by life’s demands, often follow only a few convenient ‘ethical consumption behaviors’.

But as Macromarketers, our mission should include searching beyond the bounds of the expedient exchange to illuminate marketing’s full range of outcomes—good and bad. We strive to do this with a circumspect and a critique that most marketing practitioners, or for that matter, many of our fellow business academics are unwilling to engage. We Macromarketers seek to highlight context, history, cultural moirés and a multiplicity of other factors. A clue to some of the ‘value-added’ that we offer is discovered in the associate editor assignments of our Society’s eponymous journal—the Journal of Macromarketing. For instance:

  • We examine alternative market structures for their social impact–the recent special issues (December 2014 and March 2015) on Sustainability, edited by Prothero and McDonagh, are representative.

  • We seek to uncover the lessons of marketing history, illuminating past experiments and non-traditional markets like co-ops, fair-trade networks, micro-lending and employee ownership.12

  • We scrutinize market development across cultures, as JMK special issues on Vietnam, India and Turkey and China have done.

  • We look to show how alternative economies or novel market initiatives impact the quality of life. As fellow Macro-researchers have pointed out: QoL is more than material satisfaction, it has a formative dimension that impacts community well-being. 13

  • And, we reveal consumer sub-cultures as both shaping of and determined by market machinations. For example, Thorsten Veblen (arguably the first Macromarketer), in 1899, documented conspicuous consumption14–that pernicious seller-lubricated materialism that one later observer described as [quote] “people…spending their lives doing things they detest, to make money they shouldn’t want, to buy things they don’t need, to impress people they don’t like.”15

All of these topics mentioned, when scrupulously investigated, should engender what Bob Lusch has called “the long view”–the conception that over time, forms of helpful macrostructure will emerge from our studies of market systems pieces.16

Next, let’s look at Markets.


Do markets serve us well? Yes, most of the time! Think about the level of service provision necessary for this conference—rooms, meals, beverages, relaxation, etc. These come to us with admirable logistical élan. Typically, markets are a marvel of efficiency.

And certainly, market transactions should be examined from efficiency perspectives (i.e. Are costs low? customers satisfied? profits adequate?). Micromarketers dissect these things pretty well. But market exchange also needs evaluation from alternative vantage points such as co-creation and social welfare. Such scrutiny has an inherently Macro flavor: Markets seem to work best when embedded in rules, customs, and institutions. Markets need ‘checks and balances’ to thrive and ‘interventions’ to manage negative dynamics and, sometimes market failures. Our Calling as Macromarketers is to investigate and chronicle the market designs that can improve, empower and elevate the commonweal. real vegas online sign in

For instance, our research should help make clear the roots of systemic market pathologies. Last year’s Slater Award winning article, by Bill Redmond17, described a failure of market systems during the 07-08 housing crisis and the subsequent “Great Recession”. Tellingly, it was market inefficiency and ineffectiveness—costing society hundreds of billions of dollars—that characterized this entire debacle as bad actors “manipulated” market segments for personal or organizational gain, with crippling global side-effects for the US, Europe and beyond.

It is worth recalling that our discipline of Marketing grew out of early 1900s institutional economics and the study of market flows. The institutional economists of that time, thinkers such as John R. Commons, looked beyond functional exchange to the wider distributive dynamics of time, place and possession utility. While these pioneers originally conducted their seminal analyses on agricultural supply-chains, their efficiency principles were tempered by consideration of fairness-in-exchange. As Bob Bartels wrote of these early thinkers in his History of Marketing Thought, [quote] “… [They] emphasized marketing’s economic role, its broader…role, and its social responsibility [p.32].”18

From such heritage, unfolds our calling to examine transactions from the standpoint of distributive justice.19 We should embrace the challenge of tackling “wicked problems” rather than being content with polishing tactical orthodoxies. We Macromarketers, even in our most empirical studies, should at least clarify the ethical issues embedded in exchange—such as when market information is manipulated by the powerful (think Big Data!), or regarding special obligations owed to vulnerable segments of every stripe—political refugees, the elderly, market illiterates, the addicted and desperate immigrants. Macromarketers should not simply validate trends but, instead, are called to spotlight how markets can contribute to the health of citizens, the richness of education or the joy of retirement years. Our Society’s scholarship should help account for the beauty of art, the empowerment of architecture and the level of trust in our communities; macromarketing research should address everything that makes life worth living.

And so, our Vocation impels us to audit market system “wellness”–and to fearlessly debate it. This involves establishing: What conditions create “social justice”? How can “trade-offs” between market efficiency and societal welfare be better apportioned? How might manifestations of “fairness” and the “utility” in market ideology be better measured?

Such debate brings us to the final aspect of the Macromarketing’s Calling: Society.


Social idealists often portray society as people living in community for purpose of human flourishing—that is, formed for the enhanced development of each person’s potential. In turn, “human flourishing” is often linked to “advancing the common good.”20 But this begs the complex question: What exactly is the elusive common good that Macromarketing seeks to enhance?

The answer to such a query is the stuff of weighty books; but here are a few thoughts about anchoring our vocational investigations in the context of improving society. Market arrangements, directed to the common good, ought to:

  • Satisfy genuine human needs to the reasonable satisfaction of market participants without major externalities; as Cliff Shultz might put it, ‘we should strive to identify and avoid the ‘social traps’ that might lead to the ‘tragedy of the commons’.21
  • Create economic wealth for all stakeholders by empowering imagination and innovation;

  • Generate and sustain meaningful, living wage work for the able-bodied, and strive to …

  • Achieve all of this in an environmentally benign and sustainable fashion.

Roger Layton, and others have long insisted that marketing is best understood as nested in Systems and, that these broader hierarchies cannot be ignored, if we wish to truly comprehend our research domain.22 Again, micromarketing strategy is germane but its mania is self-serving. One only needs to recall the violent metaphors that practitioners use to portray their fellow competitors as “enemies to be vanquished” to unmask such micro dysfunction. Instead, our Macromarketing vocation unashamedly embraces societal and systemic perspectives—and, be sure, such scholarship has a noble tradition as documented by Bill Wilkie in his ‘four eras of marketing’ schema.23 Thus, we Macromarketers seek to broaden our purview beyond merely profit margin, growth rate and market share; we look to expand the articulation of secondary & tertiary impacts of commercial transactions—those pesky unintended consequences of marketing;24 and, we strive to generate system-wide insights about markets that help communities form reasoned, evidence-based conclusions regarding market outcomes.


To conclude: If we Macromarketers are to live up to our Vocation, our Calling (our scholarly passion!), it requires that we re-commit to seeking the deep knowledge inherent in diverse market networks and then, to unlock and proclaim how that knowledge can be used to foster the common good. Let’s get to work!

Thanks and enjoy the conference!


  1. Peterson, Mark (2014), “Impromptu Speakers’ Corner: ‘Why Macromarketing?” 39th Annual Macromarketing Society conference (London: Royal Holloway University), July 2nd

  2. Sandberg, Carl (1916), Chicago Poems (New York: Henry Holt). 

  3. Hunt, Shelby (1981), “Macromarketing as a Multidimensional Concept”, Journal of Macromarketing 1 (1) Spring. 7-8. 

  4. Novak, Michael (1996), Business as a Calling (New York: The Free Press). 

  5. Mittlestaedt, John, William Kilbourne and Robert Mittlestaedt (2006), “Macromarketing as Agorology: Macromarketing Theory and the Study of the Agora”, Journal of Macromarketing 26(2) December, 131-142. 

  6. Vargo, Stephen L. and Robert F. Lusch (2004), “Evolving to a new dominant logic for marketing” Journal of Marketing 68, 1-17. 

  7. Drucker, Peter F. (1954), The Practice of Management (New York: Harper & Brothers). 

  8. Kennedy, Ann-Marie and Gene R. Laczniak (2016), “Conceptualizations of the Consumer in Marketing Thought” European Journal of Marketing [in-press]. 

  9. Jackson, Michaela (2015), “Marketing ethics in context: the promotion of unhealthy foods and beverages to children”, in Handbook on Ethics & Marketing (A. Nill, ed.) (London: Edward Elgar), 354-386. 

  10. Smith, Amelia (2015), “Private Jets descend on Davos…” in European Newsweek (January 17), <> 

  11. Varey, Richard J. (2012), “The Marketing Future Beyond the Limits of Growth” Journal of Macromarketing 32(4), 424-433. 

  12. Jones, D.G. Brian and Eric H. Shaw (2006), “Historical research in The Journal of Macromarketing, 1981-2005”, Journal of Macromarketing (December) 26(2) 178-192. 

  13. Sirgy, Joseph M. et. al. (1991), “Satisfaction with healthcare services consumption and life satisfaction among the elderly”, Journal of Macromarketing, 11(Spring), 24-39. 

  14. Veblen, Thorsten (1899), The Theory of the Leisure Class (Dover Thrift Editions, reprint) 

  15. Paraphrase of remark by early 20th century investigative reporter Emile Gauvreau of The New York Graphic. 

  16. Lusch, Robert (2006), “The small and long view” Journal of Macromarketing 26(2) 240-244. 

  17. Redmond, William (2013), “A Market Systems View of the U.S. Housing Crisis” Journal of Macromarketing, 33(2), June, 117-127. 

  18. Bartels, Robert (1976), The History of Marketing Thought, 2nd (Columbus, OH: Grid). 

  19. Laczniak, Gene R. and Patrick E. Murphy (2008), “Distributive Justice: Pressing Questions, Emerging Directions, and the Promise of Rawlsian Analysis”, Journal of Macromarketing 28(1), March, 5-11. 

  20. Murphy, Patrick E. (2014), “The Common Good” in Marketing & the Common Good, P.E. Murphy and J.F. Sherry (eds), (London; Routledge). 

  21. Shultz, Clifford J. II and Morris Holbrook (1999), “Marketing and the Tragedy of the Commons: A Synthesis, Commentary and Analysis for Action”, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 18(2), 218-229. 

  22. Layton, Roger A. (1989), “Measures of Structural Change in Macromarketing Systems”, Journal of Macromarketing, 5 (Spring), 5-15. 

  23. Wilkie, William L. and Elizabeth E. Moore (1997), “Scholarly Research in Marketing: Exploring ‘the 4 eras’ of Thought Development”, Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, (22), 116-146. 

  24. Mundt, JoNel and Franklin S. Houston (2010), “Ubiquitous Externalities: Characteristics, Climate, and Implications for Post-Acquisition Behaviors”, Journal of Macromarketing, 30 (3), 254-269.