Ritson: Who hurts marketing more, Gary Vaynerchuk or out-of-touch professors?

Marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuk’s dismissal of universities shows he’s hopelessly ignorant about strategy, yet he’s right that professors have become detached from reality.

Long Hair Senior Man Professor With Palm Up

You might have seen the video already. The Canadian father of a 17-year-old, attending a marketing session hosted by marketing guru Gary Vaynerchuk, stands up during the Q&A and asks the speaker for some advice. His daughter, Kiara, is interested in a career in marketing and is currently reviewing her options for study. The father explains he is recording the response on his smartphone and asks Vaynerchuk to talk to his daughter and advise her on the best course of action to achieve her goals.

READ MORE: Mark Ritson: Maybe it’s just me, but shouldn’t an ‘expert’ in marketing be trained in marketing?

Vaynerchuk does not miss a beat. “Here’s what I would say, Kiara,” he responds, dropping to a kneeling position on the stage. “There is not a school on earth, not a university or college that exists, that is even remotely equipped to educate you properly on communications and marketing in the world we live in today.” He goes on to describe a university education in marketing as a “shit product”, “extortion” and “fucked-up fucking crazy-ass shit” as his audience, presumably of marketers, whoop their encouragement.

It’s obviously difficult viewing for a marketing professor. To be dismissed, along with all your peers, in less than two minutes like that is everyone’s professional nightmare. The fact that the dismissal comes from someone like Gary Vaynerchuk makes it worse. Vaynerchuk’s star has risen rapidly in a decade from online wine guru to chat show host, to digital marketing expert, to personal brand coach and he is held up by his followers as the king of modern marketing.

Personally, all I see is a man talking a lot about himself erratically in the back of limousines, but enough marketers have told me he is important for me to recognise that I must be missing something. His millions of followers and incredible capability for generating content alone make him a force to be reckoned with. More people will hear something from Vaynerchuk today about marketing than will attend a class on the topic at university. For someone this influential and widely followed to be so openly hostile to a marketing education is deeply troubling.

READ MORE: Do marketing experts need a qualification in marketing?

Vaynerchuk was hardly likely to be a fan of marketing education. He is at the vanguard of the self-taught, “everything is now different” school of digital marketing that has engulfed our discipline in recent years.

I’d be a lot more comfortable with his recommendation to the inquisitive father if he himself had experienced, and then regretted, a formal marketing education. Particularly problematic is Vaynerchuk’s constant conflation of marketing communications and marketing as one and the same. This is a particular pain point for me as I watch in horror as untrained marketing gurus ignore the strategic aspects of marketing and the other tactical areas like pricing and distribution in an ignorant, self-oriented quest to promote marketing communications.

Marketing risks reverting to the tactical, superficial and flashy stereotypical image it represented a quarter of a century ago.

Unfortunately, Vaynerchuk does have something of a point about marketing education. Most marketing academics in the UK and US are wildly out of touch with marketing practice.

It may sound strange but most of the people teaching marketing at British universities have never actually done any marketing of any kind. If they have it was so long ago that the dramatic changes taking place in our discipline are completely missed. Lost in the languid esoteric flagellation of academic publication, they can’t even see Vaynerchuk and his acolytes on their radar, let alone acknowledge the existential threat they surely represent to the discipline of marketing.

Out-of-touch marketing academics have always been a problem. Ask any university-trained marketer about their studies and, inevitably, the hopeless quality of some of the lecturers will feature high on the list of memories. But this becomes a major issue as marketing changes and alternative sources of expertise from the likes of Vaynerchuk and his multiple modes of learning spring up and offer immediate marketing enlightenment.

READ MORE: Would you hire a marketer without a formal qualification in marketing?

We now face the genuine risk that marketing as we know it will revert to the tactical, superficial and flashy stereotypical image that it used to represent a quarter of a century ago. Just when the areas of customer experience, targeting, brand, pricing, distribution and product design become most important there is a genuine risk that marketers will be excluded from the discussion because we are the guys babbling about digital media in the back of cars.

A few months ago, I sat down for a day to read the latest editions of the main marketing textbooks as preparation for a new course I am about to teach. The authors and the titles are unchanged since my days of study two decades ago and I fondly opened Marketing Management by Professor Philip Kotler (now with Professor Kevin Lane Keller as co-author) with the affection one would usually reserve for a long-lost friend.

To my horror the book was terrible. Perhaps I have become more critical in old age but I remember a logical, illuminating text that genuinely schooled me in the ways of marketing. Today’s edition (the 14th) is a jumble of displaced examples and headings that seems bereft of any narrative or passion for the subject of marketing. It read like a text that had simply been appended and expanded continually for many years until its structure and overall message had been lost in all the annotations and sub-headings.

Give Vaynerchuk his credit: he is nothing if not concise. And most of his wisdom comes free. The textbook costs £170 in hardcover and, well, it’s a book. How many 20-year-olds are lugging two kilos of dead wood around in their bag anymore?

Young marketers find themselves, I fear, trapped between a marketing rock star and an academic hard place. One is full of digital modernity and superficial brio but enormously ignorant of the true nature and scope of the marketing discipline. The other might represent the subject matter but is increasingly out of touch with the new directions and challenges of marketing in 2017. It’s a genuine conundrum.

Even I’m not sure what Kiara should do. And I’m meant to know the answer.

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Comments
  • Nick Turner 7 Dec 2016 at 8:42 am

    This is exactly why I read what you have to say every day Mark Ritson: often controversial, always current, and usually relevant. As a marketing academic for 15 years still engaging in my local employer arena, preceded by 20 years in marketing in UK industry, I certainly don’t count myself amongst out-of-touch marketing academics that you regularly “sledge!”

    The majority of my colleagues engage similarly as both academics and practitioners so I cannot accept the tarring of all with the same brush as an accurate summary of the state of marketing academia.

    Keep on provoking thought with us “wildly out of touch” marketing teachers!

    Regards

  • Richard Johnson 7 Dec 2016 at 8:52 am

    Absolutely spot on. The quality of the education in both Marketing & Communications, and IT/Technical skills is woeful.

  • Jonathan Cahill 7 Dec 2016 at 9:06 am

    Excellent and refreshingly candid. l have been involved in trying to teach marketing at university and it is a charade. The concern appears to be with cookbook marketing as opposed to any understanding of the subject. The fact that there is no clear definition of marketing itself is a good indication of the complete lack of rigour. l also agree with the lack of clarity brought about by the conflation of communication with marketing.

    To my bemusement, models such as PEST and Porter’s Five Forces are touted as central planks of the subject when they have no relevance. Porter’s model was useful in the context of his book “The Competitive Advantage of Nations”, but in the index for this book there is not one mention of marketing. Go figure! Using them is asking students to bash square pegs into round holes.

    Academics seem to grab whatever ostensibly plausible academic fig leaf they can find to cover the fact that they have little understanding of the subject. They seem far more concerned with academic preening as evidenced by Richard Thaler’s recent observation that, at Chicago, you are judged by your last paper. God forbid that academics should be judged by the understanding they give to students of the subject.

    l have experienced the symptoms and the causes. The former is where marks given for work which demonstrates no understanding have been raised unilaterally by 20%. The cause is the giving of AAA ratings to sub-prime modules. Also the text books are a complete rip off. A key one, of which the latest edition was 2013, had a case history on the iPhone asking whether it would be successful. l think by 2013 we all knew!

    Marketing is a fascinating subject which can have magical effects. Little of this is communicated to students. In addition the industry in general would do well to observe Einstein’s injunction to “make things as simple as possible, but no simpler”.

    • John Dawes 11 Dec 2016 at 11:23 pm

      Jonathan – in relation to Porter, cannot agree more. I tell my students do NOT use either the Porter cost/differentiation false dichotomy, NOR the 5-forces analysis in a course on marketing planning. Unfortunately many still do.
      Whoever this Vaynerchuk character is, he’s partly right some marketing profs are hopelessly out of touch but a helluva lot are very switched on, they engage with industry and actively research their fields. Dunno how he’s in a position to sledge the entire field.

  • Fes Askari 7 Dec 2016 at 9:55 am

    Mark, I am not an academic or traditional marketer, in fact, I work in agency sales (crikey!) and have been following you for a while now, as most in the industry do. I also follow Gary and had seen him live at Inbound 2016 this year. Both of you are passionate about what you do, both have success in ways you would deem relevant, and both are highly critical of those that they deem to be practising ‘bad marketing’.

    I would suggest to anyone out there, you need to follow both schools of thought to understand the complexities of business, marketing and brand in the modern world. Digital marketing is just one part of the mix (and I work for a digital marketing agency). It has a much bigger voice than it used to, as it has democratised marketing & advertising to a degree, but must always be based on sound planning, research and traditional principles – as you often (correctly) say.

    And to paraphrase Gary Vee – it’s probably the best (and most exciting) time to be working in the industry!

    Great post, thanks for recognising that people are struggling with this difference in opinion, and I hope we all keep learning from each other!

    • Will Burns 7 Dec 2016 at 1:46 pm

      Though, to be honest, it would be clearer if Digital Marketing was just rebranded Digital Communications to be more accurate. Then it would be much clearer that Marketing is much more than the communications part that Digital Marketing focuses on.

      • John R Barker 8 Dec 2016 at 1:20 pm

        The best and most dedicated marketers are going to learn from both schools of thought. It shouldn’t be an ‘either or’ proposition.

        But you’re missing the mark if you don’t believe there isn’t any strategy, testing, design, etc going on. Digital marketers are involved in far more than just “communications”.

        “Us vs. Them” is a powerful marketing strategy and he’s using that before audiences of people who want to believe there is a shorter route to success. They want to believe their lack of a college education isn’t a disadvantage and they love hearing it may even be an advantage over those who’ve wasted time and money learning antiquated approaches.

        Colleges and universities, ultimately, have themselves to blame for positioning EDUCATION itself as an end to a means called “make more money” instead of the value of being educated – lazy marketing. When people believe they can have the same money, or more, without going to college then they believe they’ve beaten the system.

        I’ve engaged in this argument on plenty of “Internet marketing” forums. The one critique I’d have for this article is the writer hasn’t taken the time, it would seem, to understand the psychology of Gary’s target market.

        Many of the people he speaks to do not have a college education and they’d love to believe that’s no disadvantage when they’ve been labelled as “less than” by people who consider themselves superior and elite because they do have an education.

  • T A 7 Dec 2016 at 10:15 am

    And what if you are the young marketer with a degree in marketing from a decent university trying to get your foot in the door, but all you hear in the industry is how “Content is King” and how a company needs “Social Media Strategy” that only involves posting x times per day and looking at the Likes it is increasing?
    What if, during an interview, you try to explain that strategy has to start with tons of research and STP and not with the selection of a channel, but you are shown out of the door?

    The whole industry is confused on what is right. Google searches are flooded with “How Marketing Should be done” by people that have never worked a marketing role in their life. I am starting to be confused myself if I should be standing up to the basics of Marketing taught in university or I should just agree with the bullshit and pave my career that way.

    • Ross Howard 7 Dec 2016 at 11:40 am

      Good point, but don’t lose hope.

      I started in the other direction, with no formal training and an Arts degree trying to learn the ‘rules’. I found it helps to learn a channel (email, display, social), or a format of comms (‘content’, Digital PR,) from all the readily available spiel out there. What isn’t readily available is access to the very fundamentals you have been taught.

      When (it’ll come) you break into an industry, learn everything you can about it and apply your fundamentals and new discipline to it with vigour.

      Good luck!

    • Mark Ritson 7 Dec 2016 at 1:18 pm

      Christ, this makes me so sad I want to weep.

  • Martijn de Haas 7 Dec 2016 at 10:26 am

    Excellent read, but now some passionate and experienced professors need to join forces and rewrite that textbook.

  • Michael 7 Dec 2016 at 12:02 pm

    Being a university student myself, I can most definitely relate to this issue.
    Gary Vaynerchuk’s talks are, in my opinion, not particularly insightful, clever or useful. However, even though his ideas and opinions are mostly not based on data, but his own narrow world view, Vaynerchuk is an incredible speaker. He is extremely successful in stimulating his audience. Unfortunately, in my four years at university, I have yet to meet any professor who is really skilled at presenting. I think that if professors were half as good as Gary at making their material exciting, then students would, to a higher degree at least, be more susceptible to their teachings. Instead, we tend to get influenced by various online gurus, hopeless infographics and biased agency blogs because they deliver their messages in more digestible and interesting formats.

    • Mark Ritson 7 Dec 2016 at 1:19 pm

      This also making me weep.

    • John R Barker 8 Dec 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Amen to that. I was excited when MIT courses became freely available online. But anyone who can sit through more than one lecture without falling asleep deserves a cookie.

  • Mona 7 Dec 2016 at 12:17 pm

    Remember listening to Vaynerchuk and getting a migraine. There’s a quality to his voice that does that. Also kept losing track of what his initial original argument was. This was in one of the YouTube videos. Getting hold of a book, and reading it, is therapeutic, calming and enormously rewarding. Kiara may want to take a look at the Faculty in her Univ of choice, look at what their research focus is, and make a decision. Prof Mark Ritson makes a great choice.

    • Mona 7 Dec 2016 at 12:26 pm

      As well as, learning at Univ is a powerful personal experience. All my Profs had powerful, rich voices. Variety of accents. It’s a one-on-one interaction even when you are in a lecture hall full of people. It does not grate on one’s ears and sensibilities. We must self-learn at some point but the Univ. education is very very special. Thank you.

  • Christian Ohm 7 Dec 2016 at 12:49 pm

    Gary makes good points here, but so are you Mark.

    I think key is to stop letting an ideology war to emerge (or continue). The world has become more complex with huge implications on all of us, yes, no doubt. However, this does neither mean all essential Marketing principles are out of place, nor that the way today’s consumers make buying decisions has changed profoundly either.

    It is not about old vs. young, traditional vs. new, offline vs. online or TV vs. Online video. At the end, it is about being clear who you are, where you currently stand, where you want to go, who your (target) customers are, what your competition is doing, where the world/category is heading and then develop a clear path of getting from that A to B bearing in mind all outcomes from that analysis. That means, both Strategy & Tactics are important and this will – in most cases – involve a balance of the above and not be black and white.

    There are great Marketers without Marketing education (and vice versa). But, worrying is today’s abundance of fake, unfounded, misleading and false claims by so-called ‘experts’ (with vetted interests) that fall on receptive grounds of (senior) people with below-acceptable level of wide, balanced, holistic (Marketing) education and experience.

    • Zbiggy 11 Dec 2016 at 2:14 pm

      Christian really good response, despite no formal marketing qualification as a General Manager I was responsible for some exceptional product launches, that were developed in connjuction with some brilliant, highly educated Marketing Experts. The simple fact is too many people don’t understand the “Flintstones” famous copy line sadly too much Yabba, Dabba that without the Do! means nothing. The more our academics take up Board positions with real responsibility and accountabililty, and the same for quality professionals to do the same re academia, the better the results will be. Experience is not something you can learn from a text book, that requires training in the real “University of Life.”

  • Geoff Glendenning 7 Dec 2016 at 1:55 pm

    What a great article!! I’ve followed your arguments about how essential an academic marketing background/foundation is but, from a personal view, I’ve disagreed until now.

    My impression of marketing academia, from the 90’s onwards, has been that the majority of marketing is still taught from a traditional and archaic point of view and is often out of touch: something that clearly needs to be addressed.

    I’ve only read two marketing books in my life: Ogilvy on Advertising in about 1989 and more recently, after many recommendations… The Tipping Point, which I’d avoided for many years, stupidly, because I never wanted to put myself in a position of feeling like I’d stolen/plagiarized other peoples ideas….I think there was a little over confidence/arrogance involved too.

    The Tipping Point was a great revelation as it very much ‘nailed’ the essence of how Playstation eclipsed the duopoly of Sega and Nintendo in the UK and beyond during the mid-90’s.

    After an early career in Advertising, where my cynicism towards a reliance on traditional mass media spend first grew, I landed a dream role as a member of the management team who launch Sony Playstation, and as the Marketing Manager, later to rise to Head of Marketing, I’d proposed that the global strategy to target the PS1 and Brand at a 10-14 year old audience was missing a huge opportunity; and by positioning the brand to an 18-30 year old market, building relationships & credibility at the heart of ‘youth’ culture through support rather than hi-jack, an army of ambassadors would be mobilised to build the Brand through word of mouth.

    Arguably, if my understanding of marketing had come from a Degree of that era I would not have been in a position to have proposed that strategy. Mainly because the strategy came from three key aspects, none of which were academic:

    1) Having been a games player since I was a kid; so I understood the market and recognised that the technology leap was not just for kids.

    2) An understanding and cynicism about how the advertising Industry worked to spend too much of the marketing budget on mass media with, arguably, a vague and inaccurate rationale to claim that the brand had been built, and sales had been driven, through Advertising alone.

    3) Being a part of the early rise of ‘rave’ culture and therefore understanding how word of mouth, along with the essence of where true credibility and authenticity came from.

    I wish I had a Marketing Degree; if only so that my applications for jobs were not rejected on this basis alone.

    However, there is a clear message in your article, along with great examples of success from non-academic marketers, that current text books and academic institutions need to change.

    I’d therefore suggest that the greatest marketing will come from an up to date academic foundation combined with personal experience, insight, creativity and personality.

    http://www.marketingmagazine.co.uk/article/1386185/building-cultural-credibility-new-marketing-manifesto

  • Mike O'Brien 7 Dec 2016 at 4:51 pm

    Gary was fortunate enough to have something incredibly interesting that was turning over 5 million dollars a year to work with in the first place but he made the most of the opportunity afforded by digital and social channels in particular to become a cult hero to many – I am a reader of his books and subscriber to his feeds. He is right about the lack of constructive alignment between course material, tutor experience and work practice at University level. However, there is much more at play in marketing than cyber celebrity. Turning around a massive corporation that employs hundreds of thousands of people and actually pays taxes is not as easy as turning everyone into a vlogger. What young professionals need in this business is the support of those who can inform and inspire them in a world in which we may not all strike cyber oil before breakfast but have to work at it day and night in order to build a career. It’s what myself and the other tutors at on IDM courses (widely recognised at there toughest courses in digital marketing) do between running our own businesses and teaching our fellow professionals. We span the gap between academia and business. We love theory but we love application even better. We help companies and individuals struggling with real-world problems sort them out. We may not have Garry’s cyber fanbase but we have over 30,000 graduates who have got their shit together (one of Gary’s call to arms). By the way, I think Gary’s suggestion that over 50s need to shut up moaning about young kids having it all their own way and get stuck in to shaking things up… bloody inspirational. The point is, we need both classical and fanatical marketing to solve the complex problems that are on the verge of killing off the smug client-agency relationships for good. I for one, will be playing my part.

  • Satish Pai 8 Dec 2016 at 3:03 am

    One of those ones where there are so many many reasons both for and against, that both what Gary and you say make sense either which way

    I wouldn’t do my MBA again today – primarily because its practically unaffordable today and I dread the situation parents sending their children to face. Even in India the fees of an MBA has gone up exponentially & its only natural to doubt if its worth the investment

    However from a good institute (with merit based enlistment of students) it is likely you will benefit from the education, not necessarily only because of the professors or the curriculum, but mainly IMHO because of your fellow students. Cooking with them for a coupla years will help your thinking better. This is something to bear in mind – don’t just focus on and think only the institute matters, its the profile of students that can also make a difference, with diversity a great advantage

    Also agree that education, books, recruitment of faculty is Godawful terrible – the visiting faculty that do piecemeal courses sometimes are way better than regular. But only sometimes. The bureaucratic process of recruitment and updating of curriculum is a bane.
    But at a good institute/ univ this should not stop it from producing great students who will have successful careers.

  • AL King 8 Dec 2016 at 9:21 am

    Being ignorant of the true nature and scope of the marketing discipline is clearly a far more serious flaw than being (slightly) out of touch with the new directions and challenges of marketing in 2017. There’s always a lag between practice and the time it takes academia to tweak its models based on new cast studies. Id rather wait for that and get it right than rush in like the proverbial fool. Patience is indeed a virtue here.

  • Piers Drake 8 Dec 2016 at 11:21 am

    The problem for the last two decades or more has been that employers don’t see any value in Marketing qualifications when they hire marketing teams. People drift into the discipline from Biz Studies, Arts degrees or, like myself, Economics.
    Many reasons for this but for me the crux is:
    i) the popular ‘Mad Men’ myth that marketing is overwhelmingly a creative art where you simply build a feel for what works through some sort of intangible insight into the human soul. (Ignoring 90% of the actual discipline)
    ii) the ‘platformization’ of marketing that has arisen with the internet…recent hands-on knowledge of the latest features in Facebook, DSPs, GA, or whatever tools the brand are using this week, are vastly more valued than deeper insights into Marketing theory.

    I’m not sure there is any fix possible for this other than waiting for it to resolve via market forces….

  • Tyrone Tellis 8 Dec 2016 at 12:27 pm

    Hi Mark,

    I did not hear about Gary Vaynerchuk’s thoughts before reading your article. Gary is advocating throwing out the degree, at the other end are those who only will hire marketers who have got a marketing degree. Both sides seem extreme and unbalanced.

    Love or hate the digital wave or age, it’s reinforced an old truth- siloes are counter-productive and inefficient.

    For many learning that lesson can take a lifetime, be it through a formal marketing degree or through hands on experience

    Cheers

  • Leon Altman 8 Dec 2016 at 1:02 pm

    Having been a copywriter and creative director at major ad agencies as well as coach for entrepreneurs here’s some practical, real-world advice for the 17 year old.

    If you want to be an online entrepreneur, then follow Vaynerchuk’s advice.

    If you want to be in the creative departments of ad agencies/digital agencies – follow Vaynerchuk’s advice (to an extent).

    If you want a well-paying job in marketing at a major company- e.g., Marketing Director, CMO, etc., you’ll have an advantage with the right credentials from a university.

  • Laura 8 Dec 2016 at 1:38 pm

    I have learnt more practical skills from reading articles and watching videos online over the years than I did during four years at university. My biggest issue with my university course was how heavily theory based it was. When I came out of education and started working I didn’t have one single practical skill. Having said that, the theory is massively important and not something you are likely to learn from blogs. I think the advice is that you must have both – the formal education AND the willingness to read widely online to understand how to put the theory into practice. Also, I’ve been working in Marketing for 10+ years and nothing beats experience. Putting the theory into a real life situation and learning on the go is the only way to succeed in this industry.

  • Lubin Bisson 8 Dec 2016 at 2:07 pm

    When I read the following, I stopped taking you seriously:

    “Marketing risks reverting to the tactical, superficial and flashy stereotypical image it represented a quarter of a century ago.”

    Imagine: “A quarter century ago.”

    Tim Berners-Lee, almost a quarter century ago (1999), said the Internet was a dog’s life. He wasn’t speaking about quality of life. He was speaking about ‘quantity.’ We say one year for a human is the equivalent of 7 years for a dog. Welcome to the Internet.

    Speed is the new currency.

    Welcome to the Internet, where the old Soviet 5-year plan is now the equivalent of a little over nine months.

    Staggering to think the biggest paradigm shift in history is still to come.

    Welcome to the Internet, where if you are too busy ‘weeping,’ you make a mistake and amplify a universally hated master of self-promotion.

    Picking things to #amplify is important.

  • Riana 8 Dec 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Hi there,
    I worked as a liaison officer in the communication department of a NPO. An outside company did the websites and digital marketing. From the start I just had a really bad feeling about them: it seemed that all they ever did was just talk and they got really annoyed when I asked them questions. Today their website is down due to copyright laws (using another company’s logo as their own and plagiarism).

    It turns out they got stuck in the outbound marketing mindset not realising it is the 21st century.

    Recently I did a short course in digital marketing through UCT and GetSmarter (online).I found it really good as the course also had practical assignments. It also showed the current trends and future trends. Web design, SEO, copy writing, digital marketing strategy, mobile marketing, UX… I learned a few things from my fellow students too.

  • Brian Brassaw 8 Dec 2016 at 2:19 pm

    I’ve gone back and forth on whether my degree was worth it or not given that I work in digital marketing. Ultimately I think it was but not because of the marketing education I received.

    A university education is about so much more than your core area of focus. If you enroll in good, general study classes that challenge you and cause you to think in new ways it will help you become a better marketer and a better person. Having a basic understanding of biology, chemistry, psychology, political science, and economics has greatly benefited me in my life and career. The people you meet and associate with will also help you grow and think in new ways. They may also prove helpful years down the road as you look for a new job.

    My advice, for what it’s worth, is to get the university education (without going into significant debt) and have a side project. Set up a website and market it. That’s what I’ve been doing and it has proved incredibly beneficial, especially post-college. I get to test out my ideas and theories on my own property and then if they prove beneficial and applicable, I bring them into my day job.

  • Jon Marchant 8 Dec 2016 at 8:25 pm

    I studied marketing at university and have worked in a variety of brand marketing roles since. With the benefit of hindsight, the greatest limitation with the academic approach I experienced was that the theory had no practical context in which to apply it.

    If the objective is to develop more entrepreneurial marketeers I genuinely think Universities should rethink how they run the courses. For example, what if they were to reduce lecture time and return c20% of tuition fees back to the Marketing students, for them to invest in a start up /side project, applying the theory they learn during the course in the real world. The return they generate could make up a % of final degree class too, to properly incentivise. Students would then get the best of both worlds – the academic theory and frameworks, mixed with the real world experience/hustle our friend Gary quite rightly champions, thus setting them up for success whichever route they take. The profits generated could also be shared with the uni too!

  • Peter Bray 8 Dec 2016 at 8:59 pm

    I assure you that Gary is regarded as a joke by many marketing professionals in the “digital world”, one only needs to dive into VaynerMedia’s campaigns and examine actual work and results. Mark don’t worry you are at least a few steps above 😉 Let’s not confuse popularity or business success with actually being good.

  • Pamela Rutledge 9 Dec 2016 at 12:44 am

    I recommend that marketing students do not take Gary’s advice and ignore education–few will follow Gary’s path and many will need to know the history and models that need changing. That being said, I’d recommend that students combine the study of social sciences (media psychology being my area) with real world experience and not rely on one to the exclusion of the other. Following Gary’s advice will help you learn the ‘what’ of the present, but not the ‘why.’ Knowing why is what lets you be ahead of the curve because you understand what motivates human behavior, the value of social capital, the impact of social influence, identity and emotion, narrative structure, and the role of instinct and brain science. Obviously, I’m biased toward knowledge AND experience since I straddle that gap in what I do professionally and what I teach academically.

  • Andrew Crose 11 Dec 2016 at 12:22 pm

    As a former MBA student of yours at MBS, with 15 years spent in B2B marketing, who is now pursuing a PhD in Marketing, it is staggering how little experience new lecturers have when entering academia. Your lectures were great in they provided real-life experience alongside theory-based knowledge.

    It is equally staggering how many practitioner “marketers” have zero formal training utilizing BS more than a Bachelor’s of Science. I literally witnessed a marketing guru present the purchasing funnel to a crowd (more than 100) of professionals (all experience in sales or marketing roles) who whipped out their smartphones to take a picture. E. St Elmo Lewis 1898 creation still awes crowds today.

    Keep up the good fight. –Andrew

  • Jay Grand 11 Dec 2016 at 1:14 pm

    I suppose in the age of Trump-Populism and the experts ‘we have had enough about’, Mr Vand der Shnock, is simply surfing on the mega-trend (word / concept he would probably dismiss as obsolete. And yet … 🙂 ) . This is good rhetoric and he has good acting / presenting skills, like Trump in a Reality TV show. I doubt any corp over 500m would give him the marketing department to direct. He is now a self made man selling his individual success, like Mr Trump, again. Like for all subjects, there are varying degrees of excellence for Marketing courses. I suggest having a peak at what’s taught at Harvard or HEC. Mr VDS doesn’t come close. By a good lightyear. And that includes in digital, I’m afraid.

  • Mahesh Enjeti 11 Dec 2016 at 8:12 pm

    Mark: I share your pain about the inability to discern marketing communications from marketing, and your frustration with marketing education at Universities. Having said that, the Vaynerchuk whining (no pun) and the Ritson rant could together lead to a more robust debate that has the potential to shape a new direction for marketing education.

    Gary’s response is in some ways symptomatic of how we conduct marketing today. Be different rather than be relevant, be shocking than be sensitive, be action oriented than reflective.

    Given today’s students of marketing are overexposed to communications (which they mistakenly think is marketing), we need to turn marketing education on its head. Start with the specifics of how it’s done in different industries, across different markets, within specific decision areas e.g. product/service management, pricing, distribution, segmentation (by no means dead), brands, etc., before reasoning the why. Marketing texts need to be re-written to this new script.

    Vaynerchuk and Ritson can together heal marketing.

  • Shanghai61 12 Dec 2016 at 1:36 am

    Marketing is essentially problem solving.

    Creating (and yes, communicating) a distinctive solution to a defined consumer problem that works both for the marketer and for the intended end-user.

    The ability to do this requires a particular mindset. Marketing is essentially a craft – a set of practical skills to be learned, practiced and polished. These skills and techniques are underpinned by some basic principles. And elements of other science like psychology and economics. But marketing is not, nor ever has been, a ‘science’.

    ‘Academic’ marketing is a different animal entirely, which as Mark points out, has few reference points to the real world, or application in it. As someone who (albeit briefly) taught marketing to undergraduates, I’d tend to agree that the purely theoretical approach is largely a waste of time. Better to focus on encouraging an inquisitive, curious mindset. Teaching empathy may be hard, but it’s worthwhile.

    A marketing course can teach anyone some of these basics, but until people get to actually practice them for themselves, they won’t know if they have what it takes to be any good at the job.

    Which, if I recall correctly, was one of Malcolm Gladwell’s points about the problem of recruiting ‘star’ quarterbacks ….

  • Steve Jex 12 Dec 2016 at 7:27 am

    I’ve seen, and met, Gary, along with many other such “guru’s,”(Ryan Deiss, Jason Swenk, Frank Kern, Jay Abraham etc), and there’s no doubt that they are very effective on stage. You could just dismiss that as showmanship and in some cases you might be right. The problem is however, when they’re off stage they often come up with very useful, semi-academic material that thrashes the pants off anything that is usually recommended reading at universities offering “Marketing” courses. Take a look at Gary’s book, “Jab,Jab,Jab, Right Hook” for example. Loads of case studies based on real life actual marketing campaigns with a full explanation of how/why they work, (or in some cases do not work), techniques used etc – all for just £20 or so.
    I think Mark’s frustration is simple to understand – the world has moved on and he , and his fellow academics, haven’t, or at least they haven’t done so quickly enough. My advice to the 17 year old is that she should decide what sort of marketing career she wants. If she wants to work in a large corporate where they still have a “marketing department” of the kind Mark’s teaching is aimed at, then she should cough up the £30K plus for the fees and get the degree. Unfortunately, that kind of business is becoming less relevant in todays SME economy. The vast majority of businesses in this country are small and do not have a Marketing Department. They might have one person who does “the marketing”, if they’re lucky but he/she will be primarily focused on what most people now understand the role of marketers to be – facilitating sales and generating brand awareness.
    Marketing is no longer an academic subject – if you can’t do the practical stuff you will die, and universities, in their current shape, cannot provide that.

  • Cara Parrish 12 Dec 2016 at 11:30 pm

    Don’t let your daughter give it up!

    As soon as I saw the title, I had to read this. Gary Vee is a living nightmare of mine. I had the good fortune to ask him a question once as well. I’m only 27 and I own an International Marketing Agency with a ten person international staff. My clients are prestigous and I started recieving opportunities for public speaking. My chance to ask him a question came on the onset of my first formal and so very official invitation to be a featured speaker on social media marketing at a series of international conferences. When I asked Gary his advice on my what I should do (I mean he does talk about himself and marketing for a living who better to ask right?!) he royally crushed me. He made a non-chalant remark about how 20-somethings don’t have enough experience or know enough to be public speakers. It didn’t matter that I was launching smart phones that now live in every other person’s pocket or apps that half of Twitter use. In that moment, I lost so much pride in my accomplishments. While I have witnessed many “out of touch” professors none of them set me back as hard as one loud-mouthed overly aggressive “personal brand.” When his shine wore off, I started to dig into what he was really advising in terms of marketing and so little of what he says is actually about marketing. I had the even greater fortune of catching Neil Patel live and my passion for marketing rekindled in the first five minutes of Neil’s talk. Since then I have taken speaking engagements and now I am an upcoming guest lecturer for a university marketing program. There are ways for professors to stay “in touch” like guest lecturers. Tell your daughter to take professors who include guests. Take your daughter to hear Neil. Keep her as far away from Gary Vee as you can. Haha

  • Sebastian Franck 13 Dec 2016 at 7:09 am

    Mark, a bit late to the game here, but may I suggest using the Byron Sharp textbook “Marketing. Theory. Evidence. Practice.” Instead of Kotler? This book, of course, is based on the Bass-Ehrenberg School, but very sound and well-constructed. Plus, it makes a virtue of connecting to the actual practice of marketing and not some out-of-date Ivory tower conception, that I too have encountered in business school.

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