Is Marketing Art or Science?

Whether marketing is an art or science is heavily debated.  It has been more than fifty years that academicians and practitioners produce contra-arguments. Yet a total victory for both sides has not been attained. Unlike many contents over internet, we approach the debate of art or science from academic perspective.

Disagreement over the scope of marketing art or science

In order to understand the controversy on whether marketing is an art or science, we have to look at the nature of both marketing and science. To do so, first, it is important to make a discussion on the scope of marketing. The scope can enable us to understand the definition of marketing controversy.

In his study, Hunt provides a three dichotomies model that covers the development of the classification. The model proposes that all marketing phenomena, topics, and issues can be categorized using the three categorical dichotomies of

  • profit sector/nonprofit sector,
  • micro/macro
  • profit/micro/normative
  • positive/normative.

Profit/Micro/Normative Scope in Marketing Art or Science Debate

Most marketing practitioners and some marketing academicians perceive the entire scope of marketing to be profit/micro/normative. That is, practitioners often perceive the entire domain of marketing to be the analysis and improvement of the decision-making processes of marketers. Therefore, they argue that marketing is an art, not a science.

The profit/micro/normative approach states that there is a real reason to why the field of marketing has been slow to develop a unique body of theory. This is because marketing is not a science. It is rather an art or practice.

Marketing is seen as much more engineering, medicine, and architecture than it does physics, chemistry, or biology.

To illustrate further, marketers give the medical profession as an excellent example for their thesis. Medical profession’s members are called practitioners and not scientists. It is the work of physicians, as it is of any practitioner, to apply the findings of many sciences to the solution of problems. It is not reasonable to relate the scientist’s search for knowledge to the market research man’s seeking after customers.

However, Hunt argue that if marketing is restricted to profit/micro/normative dimension, then marketing would not be a science. Sciences involve the explanation, prediction, and the understanding of phenomena.

Therefore, any discipline that is purely evaluative (normative) is not a science. He further argue that “at least for marketing academe, restricting the scope of marketing to its profit/micro/normative dimension is unrealistic, unnecessary and without question, undesirable”.

Once the appropriate scope of marketing has been expanded to include at least some positive dimensions, then the explanation, prediction and understanding of these phenomena could be a science. The question then becomes whether the study of positive dimensions of marketing has the requisite characteristics of a science. Aside from the strictly honorific overtones of nonmarketers accepting marketing as a science, the substantive characteristics differentiating sciences from other disciplines have been shown to be:

  • a distinct subject matter,
  • description and classification of the subject matter,
  • the presumption of underlying uniformities and regularities in the subject matter,
  • the adoption of the method of science for studying the subject matter.

Because of these reasons, Hunt suggests that marketing researchers are at least as committed to the method of science as are researchers in other disciplines. Indeed, the study of positive dimensions of marketing can be appropriately referred to as marketing science.

Marketing is an art, a substantial body of rules or principles on buying, selling, financing, transport, storage, standardization etc., that have been put into practice to get the desired results. In this way, marketing is regarded both as an art as well as science. It consists of certain principles which may not be exact like pure sciences. These principles and rules are put to use in the best possible manner to get the best results. It can be concluded that marketing has the properties of science and attributes of art. That is why marketing people carry both scientific and artistic sides which put them in a central position.  

Marketing is understanding and managing human beings. We are all aware of the complexity of human behavior and it is impossible even with the super computers to predict the customers. If we were to derive a set of algorithms to predict the human behavior, then there is no need of marketing! It isn’t that simple. The argument here is however not to say that algorithms in marketing is not useful; it is in a limited way. Its scope may be limited to specific situations such as targeting or re targeting of advertisements etc.

Certainly, finding out what the customers need is a science and creating an offer to satisfy the need is an art. Pricing the product is more of a science and positioning it is an art. Data by itself would achieve nothing. Some discerning brain has to ponder over it to uncover some precious information useful to the organization. Creativity is needed to breathe life into the data. In other words, creativity is like life and science is like a body to marketing.

Researches like Anderson or Peter and Olson (1983) also support the perspective of marketing as science.  However, the debate moved from whether marketing can have scientific theory to what form of scientific theory is appropriate. According to them, justification of marketing should not be limited to mere empirical testing. It is reliable and relevant on the logical positivism / empiricism perspective. Also, main task of science is to create useful knowledge and marketing has seemed to accomplish this aim.

For finding similar topics, you should check: science, academic