Welcome to the Creative Age: Bananas, Business and the Death of Marketing


This book chronicles the dawn of the age of creativity in business, when new ideas and practices based on creativity will drastically change the way we do business. Starting with an overview of the age of marketing, the book winds its way through the past and the present to show us the future of business, backed up with insights from sociology and psychology.

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This book chronicles the dawn of the age of creativity in business, when new ideas and practices based on creativity will drastically change the way we do business. Starting with an overview of the age of marketing, the book winds its way through the past and the present to show us the future of business, backed up with insights from sociology and psychology.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"... Using ingeniously insightful witty examples, mark Earls embarks on a radical and comprehensive critique of the fundamental principles of business and marketing..." (Marketing Business, September 2002) 

"…a highly entertaining and thought-provoking denunciation of what’s gone wrong with marketing…Mark’s easy-flowing writing style will encourage you to try to spend the evening reading it at one sitting…" (www.theidm.com 4 November 2002)

"…anyone interested in our industry (marketing), and the society we help to create, should read this book…" (Research Magazine, February 2003)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780470844991
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 9/9/2002
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 292
  • Product dimensions: 6.24 (w) x 9.24 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

MARK EARLS is Executive Group Planning Director at Ogilvy London - the UK's largest communications group. Prior to this, he worked at St. Luke's and a number of other London Ad agencies.

Mark is a frequent public speaker and has presented papers on his field of expertise around the world and judged a number of awards competitions. He edited the 1999 APG Creative Planning Awards case studies. He has been vice chair of the UK Account Planning Group and sat on the DTI Foresight Panel for Information, Technology and Communication.

Andrew Jaffe, chair of the US Clio Awards described to Mark as 'one of the London Advertising scene's foremost contrarians'.

Mark lives in North London but dreams of tight lines, off-drives and sunnier climes.

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Read an Excerpt

Welcome to the Creative Age

Bananas, Business and the Death of Marketing
By Mark Earls

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-470-84499-X

Chapter One


In Improvisational Theatre, there is a game called 'Colour, Advance'. It goes like this: I begin to tell you a story - let's say a children's fairy story. At regular points in the story you, the listener, can give me one of two different commands - 'Colour' or 'Advance'. If you say 'Colour', then I cannot (for the moment) go on developing the narrative in terms of advancing the plot; all I do is give you some further description of the place where we are, the flavour and texture of the scene and characters at this point in the story - the simple dark wood of my grandmother's bed, for instance, or the dull yellow glow of the wolf's teeth, or the reassuring weight of the Glock 9mm in the deceptively capacious little picnic basket under my arm. If you command me to 'Advance', on the other hand, then all I am allowed to do is advance the plot - give you, the listener what happens next, each new development in the story, action by action, until you stop me and ask me to 'Colour' again.

The value of this game lies in helping teach how narrative progresses, or rather how it needs to progress in order to function powerfully as narrative: to progress, to be specific, it teaches us that narrative needs to both Colour and Advance in more or less equal measure. If it is all Colour and no Advance, then wenever get anywhere and lose attention. If it is all Advance and no Colour, then we never have any scene-setting or character development, so we have little motive for finding out what happens next even when it is told us. We need both Colour and Advance to genuinely progress, and to hold our attention.

So now let us imagine we are describing the narrative of Marketing and Marketing Thinking, as it has been told to us over the last twenty years, in terms of 'Colour, Advance'. I would suggest that whatever the claims various eminent marketing men and women have explicitly or implicitly made about the relevance of the views and perspectives they have advanced, the narrative of Marketing has not perceptually really developed very much at all over that period - that in fact if we were really honest, in the eyes of most marketers not much has really advanced their thinking about brands and marketing since Ries and Trout published The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing (HarperCollins 1993). More recent claims of Advance - the supposed death of mass marketing, for instance, the so-called emergence of internet-speed branding, even the challenges of the anti-globalists - all these have in fact proved so far little more than colour. Interesting colour sometimes, even important colour occasionally, but Colour rather than Advance all the same. The whole story of Marketing has just stopped advancing.

Now here's the thing. Mark isn't trying to advance the narrative of Marketing, either. What he is proposing to do in this book is more provocative and ambitious altogether - namely, to show that the narrative of Marketing is now essentially out of date, an interesting museum piece at best, and that it is instead time to start a new kind of narrative altogether. That the whole narrative of the Age of Marketing is over, in fact, and it is time for us to begin that of the Age of Creativity.

I should tell you that the exposition of the principles of the Age of Creativity will be for some at times an uncomfortable ride: Mark tears up a lot of what we are secure and familiar with (fundamental notions such as 'brand' and 'consumer-orientation', for instance), and, while giving us some of the new building blocks, he asks as many questions about the way forward without these familiar handrails, as he offers answers. This is not negligence - his point is that he can only give us the principles of the new starting point; for the rest, we have to work it out for ourselves - each narrative has to be a personal one in this new world. Each of our starting points, what Mark calls our 'purpose-ideas' will be different; each of our organizations will be in different states of readiness or predisposition - and for the way ahead, he gives us a compass, but no map. And that makes for a journey that will require as much from our character as it will from our thinking.

You may not want to agree with all of what follows straightaway - in fact, I rather suspect Mark would be secretly disappointed if you did. (You know how it is when you are selling a house, when the very first buyer agrees instantly to the asking price - what is your immediate thought? That in that case you haven't pushed the initial price hard enough ...). But it is not how much you agree or disagree with that it seems to me Mark is really interested in. He is interested more generally in kick-starting an entirely fresh way of thinking about companies and consumers in each of us. And if he succeeds in simply beginning that process, in abandoning Colour and starting to Advance in the right direction, he will have been successful.

Robert Frost once said, 'Thinking is not the same as agreeing or disagreeing. That's voting'. This is a book for people who want to define their own future by thinking for themselves.

Adam Morgan Former Strategic Planning Director for TBWA Europe Now Director of EatBigFish

Introduction: Bananas at dawn

They are playing a game. They are playing at not playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I shall break the rules and they will punish me. I must play the game, of not seeing I see the game. Kevin Kelly

The 'added-value' banana

Early one morning in July 2000, I found myself rummaging in the chiller compartment of a small country petrol-station on the Essex/Suffolk borders. I had driven the two hours from London to spend a day fishing with some good friends, but had left my carefully packed lunch sitting on a shelf in my fridge back in North London. Hence the rummaging for something to sustain me through the day.

And then I found it: a banana, enclosed in a stiff, banana-shaped, transparent plastic case with a yellow label bearing the words, 'fresh banana snack' and in even smaller print at the top of the label, above a childish illustration of a toy train, the branding, 'Fruit on the Move'.

I bought two of these: one to eat immediately and one to store in my coolbox and ponder on later. And some sandwiches (what flavour I cannot now remember) - 'real farmhouse cheddar ploughmans', probably.

But this banana - the 'fresh banana snack' - continued to occupy my thoughts for weeks afterwards. It seemed to epitomize all that was wrong with the world of business I served: the pretence of added value. The addition of layers of unnecessary packaging and 'gloss'. The patronizing attempt to control what meaning I as a consumer took from the object; to tell me what I already knew.

Put simply: a banana is - by nature's own design - a pre-wrapped fruit. This and its high energy content make it an ideal snack. These things I know. I have also learned (from an early age) that yellow bananas are fresh (I don't eat the green or brown ones). And that, all in all, a banana's characteristics make it a fairly ideal snack to be eaten 'on the move'.

It occurred to me that a significant group of people must have been involved in the development of this 'added-value' banana: not just the growers, shippers and distributors, but the marketing team, packaging designers and printers. I could imagine the amount of hot air and photocopying paper involved in creating this new wonder product. The 'competitive analyses' and the 'positioning statements' discussed and debated. And somebody must - at some point - have sanctioned the project as a good thing to do. Who was that masked man?

What's it all about, Alfie?

This book is a reaction to the sense of disillusion with the principles and practices of the Marketing Age. For a long time I have felt uncomfortable with the practices and wastefulness of the Marketing Age in my job but not primarily on account of marketing's contribution to global deforestation and damage to the ozone layer.

Nor is my frustration a result of the marginalization of the marketing function within many corporations, although Tim Ambler and the IT marketing pioneer Regis McKenna both bemoan this development. Ambler points to the fact that we talk a different language and worry about different things from the rest of business. But McKenna's critique is twofold. First, the people who sit in the marketing department aren't doing marketing anymore: 'The marketing function is being marginalized to advertising and PR. You'll find in most companies that the person called vice president of marketing is really a "marcom" person.' And second, other people and technology have replaced marketing folk: 'Major customer alliances and distributorships ... are gradually being assumed by other people, while more of the functions of managing relationships between partners and customers is being done by software programs.'

Then again, my disillusion is not due to any political objection to marketing on my part - I do not believe marketing is inherently evil. Others, such as the American critic of all things marketing, Thomas Frank, do seem to think this. Frank refers to: 'the big lie of branding, the virtuous pretence of the corporation ... the one that degrades the life of us all'.

No, my disillusion is based in the realization that marketing and its ideas don't seem to work as they are supposed to. Despite the incredible professionalism and the worrying and the effort of all involved, marketing just doesn't do what it says on the tin, as far as many of the companies I have worked with, or for, are concerned.

Marketing seems to miss the point of being in business. The joy of invention and the thrill of risk sit uncomfortably with the over-intellectual ideas of the Marketing Age.

Some have suggested that this is what happens in big business; small businesses are different. But talking to friends who work for or run small businesses, I have to disagree. Many of them share the belief that the big boys are doing proper marketing stuff - 'They have the money to do the kind of research we should be doing; we just take a guess at it.' Marketing - a big-company function - makes the smaller-company manager feel inadequate.

But I also worry because marketing seems to preclude so many of the talents that individuals could bring to the world of commerce. It seems to miss the point - to over-formalize what really is just a few people sitting around a table, trying to improve the sales performance of a particular product or company.

When seen from a distance it is clear that marketing takes delight in nonsense and jargon. Marketing and advertising folk talk a different language; a language that is so jargon-ridden that it makes your head spin but a language still opaque enough to keep the uninitiated on the outside, feeling they are missing something.

It is a language emotive enough to give them the impression of being action-men. It uses overblown military metaphors, such as 'campaign', 'burst', 'target audience' and 'strategy'; endless incantation of the mantra of brands, branding and brand values. Hours are spent dissecting the nuances of focus groups and tracking studies - looking for indications of the right thing to do, just as the ancient Romans considered the entrails of sacrificial animals or the flight of birds for 'auspicious' conditions for battle or festival. It's just as silly.

Marketing hilarity

No wonder marketing makes wonderful comedy. One of the 1970s most popular UK TV sitcoms (The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin) was actually based on life in the marketing department of Unilever's Birds Eye frozen foods (or 'Sunshine Desserts').

Consider this encounter between Reggie and the German sales director:

'How's things going in Germany?' said Reggie.

'It's tough,' said Mr Campbell-Lewiston. 'Jerry's very conservative. He doesn't go in for convenience foods as much as we do.'

'Good for him.'

'Yes, I suppose so, but I mean it makes our job more difficult.' 'More of a challenge,' said Reggie.


'There are some isolated regional breakthroughs,' said Campbell-Lewiston. 'Some of our mousses are holding their own in the Rhenish Palatinate, and the flans are cleaning up in Schleswig-Holstein.'

'Oh good, that's very comforting to know,' said Reggie. 'And what about the powdered Bakewell tart mix, is it going like hot cakes?'

'Not too well, I'm afraid.'

Reggie poured out two cups of coffee and handed one to his visitor. Mr Campbell-Lewiston took four lumps of sugar. 'And how about the tinned treacle pudding - is that proving sticky?'

This is meant to be funny but the transcripts of any marketing or advertising meeting would be just as absurd. All too often I have blushed at what I have said in a meeting.

But politicians seem to be unaware of the embarrassing nature of 'marketing bollocks'; they buy our act that insists marketing toothpaste is a matter of grave import. Indeed, they seem to think it gives one some insight into how to run a country. In recent years, politicians and public servants in both the USA and the UK have fallen under the spell of marketing ideology. They seem to think that marketing people can somehow - through ritual incantation of the key words such as 'brand', 'consumer-orientation' and 'added-value' - deliver magical solutions.

In the UK, the Labour Party's obsession with polling and focus groups is seen - rightly or wrongly - to denote a lack of principled leadership. Maybe the real evidence lies in the fact that all of our parties use the same marketing tools.

They spend millions of dollars on rebranding and presentation as if these things matter more than doing good stuff in the first place. A recent piece in the US advertising trade magazine, Advertising Age, reveals (albeit unintentionally) the folly of this (see Figure I.2).

Under the headline 'Looking for love through branding', US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, is quoted by Advertising Age as saying:

I am going to bring people into ... the department who are going to change from just selling us in an old way to really branding foreign policy ... branding the department, marketing the department, marketing American values to the world and not just putting out pamphlets.

It is heart-warming to see that civil servants in the USA leak against the follies of their masters as well as they do in the UK. The same article then cites a State Department spokesman to the effect that:

'branding' doesn't mean spending millions to launch an ad campaign ...


Excerpted from Welcome to the Creative Age by Mark Earls Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Bananas at Dawn

Creativity Is Our Inheritance

The Glorious Revolution


Who and How We Are

Ideas, Ideas, Ideas

All that You Can't Leave Behind (but must)

How to Have a Creative Age Idea

Interventions -
It is What You Do...

Advertising is Not Communication

The Shared Enterprise - putting purpose-ideas at the heart of business

A Place You Want to Work in

Us -




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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 11, 2004

    A Good Read!

    Just when you thought you had this marketing thing down, Mark Earls says it won¿t do you any good now. Marketing is out of sync with today¿s consumer-centric world of empowered customers and excess supply. In witty prose, Earls contends that creativity is more than catchy words, and he has plenty to say about the brand-as-experience phenomenon and about freeing yourself from convention. His sensible premise comes across as simplistic and naïve. Saying that ideas are the key to success is a bit like saying that love conquers all ¿ a noble sentiment, but vague and not really new. However, this doesn¿t pretend to be a how-to book; it¿s an idea book, and you interpret the ideas. An ad veteran, Earls provides ample examples and expert quotes on attitudes and behaviors. And if it isn¿t news that the market changes constantly, we note, it isn¿t fully understood either. If you want to understand, welcome to Earls¿ world.

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