Is appliance of science enough?

British marketing isn’t what it used to be, says a recent article in the Economist. A series of misfortunes engulfing such Eighties bellwethers as Saatchi & Saatchi, Unilever and J Sainsbury has exposed them as City idols with feet of clay.

It might seem nit-picking to question the misfortune afflicting J Sainsbury, which has seen off discounters rather smartly, continues to make huge profits and has expanded its presence greatly in the DIY sector. But the general drift of the article is a provocative one. Is it not true that what passes for British marketing flair rarely stacks up in the longer run against the superior “scientific” knowhow of American companies?

Let’s take a topical example of the American breed, Mars. A marketing-driven company if ever there was one, with field operation skills second to none and a handful of the world’s most famous brands to boot. Incredibly, however, it’s losing share in US and European markets, in petfoods as well as confectionery. The company has conveyed the idea that creative strategy is at fault. This has been a useful pretext for sacking Bates and Saatchi (Zenith, it seems, has escaped the purge). The problems run much deeper. New product development has been abysmal over the past few years; and distribution in its traditional markets not all it might be.

Mars is not a typical US corporation. It is privately run by two autocrats – “mad scientists” as opposed to “scientific” principles – who are its inspiration and limitation. But even the sparkling performance of more typical members of the breed needs to be treated with caution. Procter & Gamble may have severely damaged Unilever’s credibility as a detergent manufacturer through a brilliant PR campaign. But examination of P&G’s detergents in Europe shows they have lost share – to own label.

Similarly Coca-Cola, for all the glitter in its recent year-end figures, has little room for complacency about its main brand. Especially in the UK, where Sainsbury’s Classic Cola has ploughed a furrow.

Finally, while it would be foolish to portray “Cordiant plc” as a recovery stock, a rather more convincing case can be made for that other UK-based global marketing services group WPP, whose preliminary figures have just come out.

If British marketing really is in trouble, the evidence is far from clear.

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here