Marketing as a Campaign: A Little History

by Maureen Davies on March 1, 2016 No comments

For almost a hundred years, marketers have been strategizing and organizing their marketing as a series of “campaigns”, defined as a coordinated series of steps and messages to promote a product using different types of advertisements and media for a specific period of time. In fact, Edward Bernays has been credited as the one to first develop campaign techniques to sell tobacco during the Roaring Twenties, and is often considered the founder of modern advertising.

But do you know the term “campaigns” itself is a military term? It derives from the plain of Campania in modern-day Italy, a place of annual wartime operations by the armies of the Roman Republic. There they practiced large-scale military strategies incorporating a series of inter-related military operations or battles forming a distinct part or “campaign” they could use within a larger conflict or war.

As the concept of selling products by “winning” customers away from a competitor evolved into what’s known today as marketing, the military term “campaign” followed.

By the late 1980s, the idea of all business as warfare was crystalized into a complete school of business leadership thought. It was pioneered by Philip Kotler, who in 2005 was polled by Financial Times as being the fourth Most Influential Business Writer/Management Guru” behind Peter Drucker, Bill Gates and Jack Welch. J.B. Quinn was a thought leader in this area, also, claiming an effective business strategy “first probes and withdraws to determine opponents’ strengths, forces opponents to stretch their commitments, then concentrates resources, attacks a clear exposure, overwhelms a selected market segment, builds a bridgehead in that market, and then regroups and expands from that base to dominate a wider field.”

In 1986, Al Ries and Jack Trout famously penned Marketing Warfare as a concise and practical handbook on how to use military principles to develop marketing strategies. I personally have loved this book for decades, quoting it often to clients over the years.

But I find today that this idea presents a limiting view of business and marketing that applies less and less in an economy where established product categories and market segments are virtually being thrown out the window. Marketing warfare assumes you are dealing within a zero-sum environment where someone has to lose in order for you to win, and this is no longer true, or at least stable enough upon which to base a long-term marketing strategy.

Instead, we are all aware that category killing innovation and revolutionary new products and services such as Uber and Airbnb are creating entirely new ecosystems of opportunity every year. The idea of increasing your “piece of the pie” is changing to “creating a new pie”, transforming to clicks and bricks or other new business models. Entire business segments are worried about being wiped out through this type of market revolution.

Today, businesses are increasingly collaborating with their primary competitors to optimize capacity and add value to their joint or separate customers. Catch phrases like “lean in” and “co-opetition” are used. Competitive marketers and marketing agencies are encouraged to partner together in fluid, collaborative ways that assume the money — and profits — will follow when the focus is on goodwill and what’s good for the client or customer. This is a new look at the traditional “alliance strategy.”

In this brave new world, the assumption becomes abundance for all.

Still, I like thinking and planning campaigns with a start and end date for a messaging theme and/or promotional offering. Even though it’s now less about “for us to win, someone has to lose” – and even though these emphasis periods are no longer sequential, but more overlapping – a campaign construct is still the best way to align internal and external teams around a focused marketing initiative with measurable goals.


Maureen Davies

Maureen Davies Managing Partner/Director of Marketing and Brand Strategy 513.703.6900 Direct

Maureen DaviesMarketing as a Campaign: A Little History

Related Posts

Take a look at these posts