The Marketors debate: Academia is no longer relevant in modern marketing

Image of Marketors taking part in the debate


A very lively online debate took place on 2nd June 2020 when Liveryman Omaid Hiwaizi spoke in favour of the motion and Liveryman Ankur Shiv Bhandari spoke against. Here are summaries of their arguments - what do you think?


Keith Moor, when CMO of  Santander sums up the issue perfectly: “The thing I hate the most when you get a new graduate in is somebody who thinks they know it all trying to tell people what to do because they’ve read it in a textbook.” 

Academia is defined as “an environment or community concerned with the pursuit of research, education, and scholarship.” Marketing is a verb, not a noun/department. It’s not about documentation, it’s about doing.

Don’t get me wrong, being strategic is vital, but with the complexity of digital platforms and experience, we are in an era of strategy by doing, iterating – not researching and documenting the abstract.

There’s a reason why people say “it’s academic” when it doesn’t matter any more. 

David Wheldon, Royal Bank of Scotland CMO has said that while he has had marketing graduates apply, none have been hired. He suggests that as marketing is a relatively new subject it will take time to strike the right balance between theory and practice.

And what did some of the leading marketers study? Liveryman Keith Weed, ex CMO of Unilever,  studied engineering at Liverpool. Our very own Master, who was a marketing leader at BT, studied History in Glasgow. 

I studied mathematics and have found that picking/developing up frameworks and finding case studies has been plenty enough to build powerful marketing programmes for many different brands. The value is in exposure to mentors and peers in the field. I do this through network groups, conferences and events. 

There’s no way on earth an academic can keep up to date with what’s happening in the field. Whole new swathes of marketing are invented in technology companies in short periods of time. It’s our jobs to immerse ourselves in them and to start to use them to achieve our plans - not wait for them to be taught on a course a few years later. 

Also, ask yourself why marketing doesn’t explicitly appear on the board of many companies. Because often marketing is practised separately to the rest of the business. I would suggest this is because marketers should get a broader experience and learn marketing as a skill as they go along. Usually when marketing is discussed by those board it’s often by the CEO or Commercial Head. Why is this? Because these people embed marketing into the business itself. It’s a very real, hands on activity, not an academic endeavour.

Marketers should start their careers with apprenticeships – not academia. Modern marketing as a trade you learn by doing, not an academic profession!



“Seek to Understand before being Understood”, said Stephen Covey in his world acclaimed book 7 habits of highly successful people which has influenced multiple lives. Stephen was part of Academia as a professor at the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University 

This statement holds very true for the purposes of discussion today as for Marketeers who work with brands, it is extremely important that they have the right inputs or understanding on the subject matter first before they are able to use them for a Brand’s success. Now one might say that those inputs can come from multiple sources. That’s true.

Let us look at some of the inputs that have influenced the world of Marketing so far:

  1. AIDA- Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action. Also known as the original pillar of marketing is widely credited to have come from Elias St. Elmo Lewis. He was an academic at the Peirce School in Philadelphia who was part of the Peirce School of Advertising.

  2. 4Ps of Marketing – were introduced by Jerome Mccarthy. He was a professor of the College of Commerce at the University of Notre Dame and then at Harvard and MIT, a renowned Academic

  3. And likewise, multiple other models/ways of thinking in the world of Marketing have originated from Academia including the works of Philip Kotler who was part of Kellogg School of Management. 

In fact, most Modern Marketing concepts also find their origins in Academia, Augmented reality finds its origins in the work of Ivan Sutherland, a Harvard Professor and in fact the backbone of all Modern Marketing, the internet is also thought to have its origins at UCLA.

So what is it about Academia that has made it as the key source of thought capital in the world of Marketing., Academia is not only teaching, that is the tip of the iceberg, a bulk of the work in Academia is research. Research that peels of layers after layers of understanding to create concepts. Academia builds the foundation on which a Marketing practice can be built.

Modern Marketing, part of today’s discussion has 4 components: 1) Strategy, 2) Analysis, 3) Planning, 4) Execution. The concepts of modern Marketing such as Digital, IOT, Internet etc largely fall under the fourth part which is Execution. The steps before that need to be extremely robust for any execution to succeed.

Academia provides that robustness, clarity, conviction, challenge and confidence for Marketing to succeed. Therefore, Academia has been, is and will continue to be very relevant in every type of marketing, traditional, modern or futuristic.

I run a Sales & Shopper Marketing practice, Asbicon with some of the world’s biggest brands as our clients. I am also the alumni of P&G, Accenture & WPP. One might say why then such a strong viewpoint regarding Academia. I joined Academia as a part time Senior lecturer teaching International Marketing Strategy at St. Mary’s University London in January this year and What a revelation it was! in terms of the depths I could now explore and sources of discussion available to refine my Marketing thinking.

I am a foodie and in true Foodie analogy it felt like I had got amazing fresh ingredients to cook my curry now and I was not reheating and microwaving the stale old concepts to serve my clients. It was a breath of Fresh Air. Each concept could be challenged, proven or disproven not only through Academic references but also through debates and submissions from my students.

When I look at the world around me, I see real life and market differences being made by Academics through the strength of their deep understanding and Research. From my University Prof Philip Booth actively influences Government policy through being part of Treasury select committees and think tanks such as Institute of Economic Affairs, Bruce Rigal is a renowned specialist in the world of Behavioural economics  and the work of Dr. Peter Hill on carbon reduction is being adopted by councils across the UK. Specifically in Marketing Dr. Renuka Kamath from SPJIMR India, who I believe is today in the call with us actively works with FMCG companies in Asia to refine Marketing strategies, Dr Zahy Ramadan from Lebanese American University in Beirut has done amazing work on the role of Social networks in Marketing, and there and umpteen such examples of Academia providing relevance to Marketing and enabling the flowers of Brand success to Blossom.