published in Marketing Educator, vol. 17 (Winter 1998): p. 6
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Herbert Jack Rotfeld
Auburn University Alumni Professor

Visiting Australia, I was seeing cars that seemed like they did not have a driver inside (since they drive on the left and the drivers sat on the right). Store clerks thought my wife's Georgia accent and my Chicago tones sounded the same, and the popular textbooks for many upper-level marketing classes were the same as those in the U.S. None of these often repeated discovery's were a surprise, yet . . . . I nearly killed myself looking the wrong way for traffic when crossing the street, I visibly jumped when someone said I was an "American Southerner" (at another point, my Georgia-native wife was called a Yankee), and the Australian students and faculty complained about the narrow and ill-serving nature of the U.S.-oriented textbooks.

Swinburne University's Colin Jevons points out that "`International Marketing' often means little more than how Americans sell their [unaltered] products in other countries." And his favorite example is some of these books for advanced marketing classes. Of course, many books are Australianized and in some topics there are Australian authors, but for some topics the only available books are tailored for the American reader. 

Yet on closer inspection, the real problem with the books was not the apparent misplaced marketing by publishers, but rather, the statement it made about our discipline. As textbooks covering the academic discipline of marketing theory and research, basic concerns of advertising, retailing or sales management should not require their own unique schools of thought for every country in which the subjects are taught. 

Granted, new countries have their own languages. The U.S. and Britain have been described as "nations divided by a common language," a perspective that could also apply to Australia. Yet with these textbooks, the complaints did not seem to stem from failures of the English-to-English translations of spelling, terminology or colloquial expressions, though it is intuitively obvious that such deviations are a tad disconcerting for any local reader. As I know from personal experience, regional dialects and pronunciations are sometimes distracting even for U.S. faculty lecturing in different parts of North America.

Another source of "translation error" could be that common business relations will always have their own unique variant at every border. Not every marketing organization is standardized from nation to nation; it isn't very uniform within any nation. But intuitively, this can't be a major stumbling block for cross-border scholarship, since many American marketing scholars cross the Atlantic or Pacific for successful careers as educators in other countries. And the textbook problems did not seem to focus in this area either, since the basic forms are fairly consistent -- explanations of the different organization structures are such a small part of the popular textbooks on international marketing -- and marketing organizations are (unfortunately) a small part of most books anyway.

Yet going through the criticized books there exists page after page of material that anyone would find tedious, even U.S. students: numerous detailed lists of psychological data on consumers, plus demographic compilations and trends.

Why these lists are major part of the books is a mystery since they are probably not a major part of lecture material for anyone. The classes present theories and ideas. The textbooks give lists. While teachers give perspectives, the textbooks try to provide factual recipes or "cook books" for solving marketing problems. Yet as Janet Hoek noted, there aren't any clear cut recipes in marketing.

While the textbooks should provide insight from the latest research, chapters of "trends" and consumer profiles are really quite meaningless. The trend is not destiny, as Bill Moyers has said, so the demographic trend or "marketing opportunity" a student reads will be different by the time he or she graduates. This is especially true since the trends or "opportunities" were drawn from data several years earlier when the book was first written or revised. So the tons of data are not just distracting, they are filler and apparently unnecessary beyond their use in multiple-choice exams.

Yet the problem is more basic than that.

Marketing is an academic discipline, or so I believe. That is why it exists on a campus. Yet to go by the textbooks, the discipline is a collection of consumer profiles, demographic data statements and statements of "marketing opportunities."

And therein lies the problems with the textbooks. It is not just a difficulty for their use in other countries, but a very basic problem of what they say about our academic work.

In the extreme situations (of which there are many), their content are little more than compendia of every conceivable item of trivia that potential adopters might wish to see included. Many chapters could be cut and tossed into any order; lists of data or conclusions from journal articles supplant analysis. The marketing concept is usually repeated in an early chapter and then ignored. Goals are stated as important, then not used as the basis for marketing decisions. Students are informed of that almost everyone in the U.S. owns a television or radio, while they are confused about just how different television or advertising vehicles are used as marketing communications tools.

If marketing were really an academic discipline, lack of Australian-oriented upper-level books would be a minor problem, since concepts and approaches to making decisions should transcend where the decisions are made. Word use would be a distraction, each country's unique organizations would need expansion and explanation by the instructor, but data descriptions of a nation's consumers would almost be aside the point.

Oh my!! I said "If marketing really were an academic discipline." Dangerous question, that, especially if the answer depends on the content of our basic textbooks.

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