Margetinggeschichte: Die Genese einer modernen Sozialtechnik, Hartmut Berghoff

Translated title of the contribution: Marketing history: The genesis of a modern social technique

Stephanie Decker

Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article reviewpeer-review


Book revew: Marketinggeschichte: die Genese einer modernen Sozialtechnik [Marketing history: The genesis of a modern social technique], edited by Hartmut Berghoff, Frankfurt/Main, Campus Verlag, 2007, 409 pp., illus., [euro]30.00 (paperback), ISBN 978-3-593-38323-1.
This edited volume is the result of a workshop at Göttingen University in 2006 and combines a number of different approaches to the research into the history of marketing in Germany's economy and society. The majority of contributions loosely focus around the occurrence of a ‘marketing revolution’ in the 1970s, which ties in with interpretations of the Americanisation of German business. This revolution replaced the indigenous German idea of Absatzwirtschaft (the economics of sales) with the American-influenced idea of Marketing, which was less functionally oriented and more strategic, and which aimed to connect processes within the firm in order to allow a greater focus on the consumer. The entire volume is framed by Hartmut Berghoff's substantial and informative introduction, which introduces a number of actors and trends beyond the content of the volume. Throughout the various contributions, authors provide explanations of the timing and nature of marketing revolutions. Alexander Engel identifies an earlier revolution in the marketing of dyes, which undergoes major change with the emergence of chemical dyes. While the natural dyestuff had been a commodity, with producers removed from consumers via a global network of traders, chemical dyes were products and were branded at an early stage. This was a fundamental change in the nature of production and sales. As Roman Rossfeld shows in his contribution on the Swiss chocolate industry (which focuses almost exclusively on Suchard), even companies that produced non-essential consumer goods which had always required some measure of labelling grappled for years with the need to develop fewer and higher impact brands, as well as an efficient sales operation.
A good example for the classical ‘marketing revolution’ of the 1970s is the German automobile industry. Ingo Köhler convincingly argues that the crisis situation of German car manufacturers – the change from a seller's to a buyer's market, appreciation of the German mark which undermines exports, the oil crises coupled with higher inflation and greater frugality of consumers and the emergence of new competitors – lead companies to refocus from production to the demands of the consumer. While he highlights the role of Ford in responding most rapidly to these problems, he does not address whether the multinational was potentially transferring American knowledge to the German market. Similarly, Paul Erker illustrates that a marketing revolution in transport and logistics happened much later, because the market remained highly regulated until the 1980s. Both Paul Erker and Uwe Spiekermann in their contribution, present comparisons of two different sectors or companies (the tire manufacturer Continental and the logistics company Dachser, and agriculture and trade, respectively). In both cases, however, it remains unclear why these examples were chosen for comparison, as both seem to have little in common and are not always effectively used to demonstrate differences. The weakest section of the book is the development of marketing as an academic discipline. The attempt at sketching the phases in the evolution of marketing as an academic discipline by Ursula Hansen and Matthias Bode opens with an undergraduate-level explanation on the methodology of historical periodisation that seems extraneous. Considerably stronger is the section on the wider societal impact of marketing, and Anja Kruke shows how the new techniques of opinion research was accepted by politics and business – surprisingly more readily by politicians than their commercial counterparts.
In terms of contemporary personalities, Hans Domizlaff emerges as one fascinating figure of German marketing history, which several contributors refer to and whose career as the German cigarette manufacturer Reemtsma is critically analysed by Tino Jacobs. Domizlaff was Germany's own ‘marketing guru’, whose successful campaigns led to the wide-ranging reception of his ideas about the nature of good branding and marketing. These are variously described as intuitive, elitist, and sachlich, a German concept of a sober, fact-based, and ‘no frills’ approach. Domizlaff did not believe in market research. Rather, he saw the genius of the individual advertiser as key to intuitively ascertaining the people's moods, wishes, and desires. This seems to have made him peculiarly suited to the tastes of the German middle class, according to Thomas Mergel's contribution on the nature of political marketing in the republic. Especially in politics, any form of hard sales tactics were severely frowned upon and considered to demean the citizen as incapable of making an informed choice, a mentality that he dates back to the traditions of nineteenth-century liberalism. Part of this disdain of ‘selling politics like toothpaste’ was also founded on the highly effective use of branding by the National Socialists, who identified their party through the use of an increasingly standardised image of Adolf Hitler and the swastika. Alexander Schug extends on previous research that criticised the simplistic notion of Hitler's charisma as the only explanation of the popular success and distances his approach from those who see it in terms of propaganda and demagogy. He argues that the NSDAP used the tools of advertising and branding precisely because they had to introduce their new ideology into a political marketplace dominated by more established parties. In this they were undoubtedly successful, more so than they intended: as bakers sold swastika cookies and butchers formed Führer heads out of lard, the NSDAP sought to regain control over the now effectively iconic images that constituted their brand, which was in danger of being trivialised and devalued.
Key to understanding the history of marketing in Germany is on the one hand the exchange of ideas with the United States, and on the other the impact of national-socialist policies, and the question whether they were a force of modernisation or retardation. The general argument in the volume appears to favour the latter explanation. In the 1930s, some of the leading marketing experts emigrated to the USA, leaving German academia and business isolated. The aftermath of the Second World War left a country that needed to increase production to satisfy consumer demand, and there was little interest in advanced sales techniques. Although the Nazis were progressive in applying new marketing methods to their political campaign, this retarded the adoption of sales techniques in politics for a long time. Germany saw the development of idiosyncratic approaches by people like Domizlaff in the 1930s and 1940s, when it lost some leading thinkers, and only engaged with American marketing conceptions in the 1960s and 1970s, when consumers eventually became more important than producers.
Translated title of the contributionMarketing history: The genesis of a modern social technique
Original languageGerman
Pages (from-to)395-397
Number of pages3
JournalBusiness History
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Bibliographical note

Open access

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in Decker, S. (2008). Margetinggeschichte: Die Genese einer modernen Sozialtechnik, Hartmut Berghoff. Business history, 50(3), 395-397. Business history 2008 © Taylor & Francis, available online at:


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