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Dr Stephen Dann ABSTRACT If Kotler is widely seen as the father of marketing, then Theodor Geisel (aka Dr Seuss) should be proud to be marketing's funny uncle. Between 1950 and 1965, Dr Seuss inadvertently published a sophisticated range of marketing texts. At the time, these break-through marketing texts were unrecognised by industry and academia, who discarded the theories concerning relationship marketing, promotion, service recovery and product over complication. This paper sets out to recognise the role and value of the texts of Geisel, in light of post modern marketing theory and practice. The paper takes a historical perspective of how Geisel's works of the 1950s and 1960s integrated many of contemporary marketing's theories and practices, and how post modernist marketing can benefit from the insights of this unheralded scholar. It also quotes extensively from "Green Eggs and Ham", "Cat in the Hat" and recognises the importance of Sneeches with stars as brand endorsers.
Keywords: Dr Seuss, Green Eggs and Ham, Sneetches on the Beaches, Post Modern Marketing, Cat in the Hat, Kotler.
The Seuss of the Matter This paper sets out to uncover the Seuss, the whole Seuss and nothing but the Seuss (so help me Kotler). When it was first drafted, the true nature was concealed behind a veneer of post modern marketing acceptability, largely to sidestep the first rejection round of a conference. At the first draft, I proposed to have uncovered a hitherto unknown marketing genius by the name of Theodor Geisel (Theodor, for those not versed in literary history, is none other than Dr Seuss). Hidden behind the carefully worded opening page was a series of case studies based on the analysis of Dr Suess's children's classics such as "The Cat in the Hat" as being marketing texts. At the time of the review, the first reviewer managed to make it to halfway down the second page before discovering the charade (the marks and suggestions on the manuscript stopped dead just at the mention of the lost lessons of Dr Seuss). The second reviewer simply drew a new box on the conference form, labelled it "Reject Outright" and ticked it.
However, the paper was spared by the first reviewer selecting the "Accept with fundamental revisions" box which was conference speak for "Shred the evidence and try again". I removed the managerial article (Goodbye Mr Yertyle), and the paper was accepted into the conference. The message was quite clear - as long as I publicly declared I was trying to pass off children's books as marketing texts, the work was an acceptable marketing study. So, with that in mind, and mindful of Piercy (2002) and the directive for research to be relevant to teaching, industry and society, this paper is presented on the basis that "two out of three ain't bad". "Green Eggs and Marketing Plans" has been taught to students studying Advertising and Promotion and those taking Introduction to Marketing. It is rumoured to have done an e-mail tour of the inboxes of several university marketing departments (perhaps accompanied with the note "Don't
hire this guy"). Indeed, it may also have qualified for Piercy's (2002) dreaded REA funding arrangements (since it did qualify for research funding in its native country). And finally, it has brought an audience of conference delegates to scarlet-faced efforts not to explode from laughter, and baffled looks from onlookers. Above all, it cherished marketing irreverence ahead of irrelevance, since it seems more valuable to laugh at marketing than present an LISREL test equation model of humour.
How the Seuss stole Marketing The work of Dr Seuss spanned several decades, with the publication of a range of children's books which acted both as literary training, and introduction to marketing texts. At the time, their value as marketing texts was unrecognised by industry and academia. This shouldn't come as a surprise, given that, for the most part, the texts were dismissed as childish, nonsensical and irrelevant to industry. Strangely enough, marketing itself is often on the receiving end of such criticisms, and accused of being merely applied commonsense instead of being a scientific discipline. But what if the reason the methods of marketing seem so commonplace and "obvious" is because they are inadvertently taught to us as children?
The 'brandwidth' of the Dr Seuss franchise rivals Disney for instant recognition and global awareness. In that regard, it certainly also leaves Kotler as an unknown phenomenon when compared to the reach of Dr Suess. This is reflected in the fact that Seuss's children's books contain lessons on advertising and promotion (Sneetches on the Beaches, Green Eggs and Ham), service recovery (The Cat in the Hat), and the dangers of product over complication (Fox in Socks). In comparison, it usually takes until the first (or even second) year of university until people first encounter Kotler. And for
those willing to venture into Suess's management texts, he has also published a compendium of cases on management theory titled "Yertle the Turtle and other stories", outlining case studies on the neglect of front line service staff (Yertle the Turtle), the dangers of over expansion (Gertrude McFuzz) and the dangers of pretentious behaviour in the workplace (The Big Brag).
Marketing's Lost Innovator: Lessons from the Dr Seuss Marketing Manuals Dr Seuss had had previous success as a political cartoonist and documentary maker, even if the role his children's books as marketing text was unrecognised. The implication of the breadth of publications and range of skills exhibited by Geisel is twofold. First, it demonstrates the writer was well versed in contemporary society and social theories, and had an awareness of political and social situations. Second, although apparently drawing a long bow, it demonstrates that the author had the capacity to be synthesising the "common sense" aspects of marketing from the social context around him. What is no longer claimed by this paper (since I no longer need to hide the nature of the work) is that Geisel created these concepts. Instead, I argue the reverse proposition that the nature of marketing as a ubiquitous social force has been reflected in the Seuss theory. The following section examines three classic Dr Seuss titles, "The Cat in the Hat", "Green Eggs and Ham" and "The Sneetches on the Beaches", "Yertle the Turtle and other stories" and "The Lorax" to demonstrate the inherent marketing theory that permeates these literary works.
Service failure and Service recovery - The Cat in the Hat Home Entertainment One of the more famous of the Dr Seuss collected works is the paired books of "The Cat in the Hat" and "The Cat in the Hat Returns". These two books profiled the endeavours
of the Cat in the Hat home entertainment service, which can be seen to parallel a case examples of service failure and service recovery. The Cat in the Hat offered a home delivery service, with a range of services and products with an over emphasis placed on tricks portfolio. The service employee, the Cat in the Hat, although never clearly stated, appeared to be a franchise owner. The Cat was equipped with a corporate uniform consisting of a red and white elongated hat, red bow tie, white gloves and an umbrella all designed to create a strong branding image.
Products and services offered by the Cat were predominantly based on increasing the complexity of the initial offering of "Up-up-up with a fish". The expanded entertainment service incorporated the initial Up-up-up with a fish, and added holding up a cup, milk, cake, books, fish (on a rake), toy ship, toy man, red fan, whilst engaged in fanning (with the red fan) and hopping on a ball. With the over complication of the service task, resulting quite possibly from a lack of clear service script, service breakdown occurred (Swan and Bowers, 1998). Complaining behaviour to the service provider (from fish to Cat) resulted in a second service offering from the cat, despite objections from the clients. Zeithaml and Bitner (2000) outline the typical response scenario to service failure, including complaining behaviour directly to the service provider, as was the case with the fish. This gave Cat in the Hat a service recovery opportunity, which in this instance was replaced with the production orientation belief that a second service encounter would provide sufficiently positive outcomes to outweigh the initial service failure.
The error on the Cat's behalf was not to take the complaining behaviour of the client seriously, believing that the complaint from one, and silence from the other two clients
equated tacit support. Zeithaml also outlines passive complaining behaviour, where the customer does not complain directly, but refuses to reuse the service. The Cat also compounded the service failure with a second service failure, this time involving two "Things" (Thing 1 and Thing 2) who were employees of the Cat in a Hat. Following the second, and more serious service failure, the clients were left in a difficult situation where damages had been incurred, and senior supervisor of the clients (their mother), was due to make an inspection. cat: "Then I said to the cat," Now you do as I say. You pack up those Things And you take them away" resulted in the service provider, and his staff, departing from the premises, leaving the damages behind. Damages from the service encounter where initially estimated as "And this mess is so big And so deep and so tall, We can not pick it up. There is no way at all" It was at this point, that the Cat in the Hat offered a service recovery solution. Service recovery can take many forms, all of which rely on quick action, outcome, procedural and interactional fairness. In this scenario, the Cat returned to repair the damages caused by his two previous service offerings. Reinforcement of the Cat in a Hat product experience was integrated into the service recovery, increasing the consumer satisfaction, decreasing consumer complaining. Outcome fairness was established by the Cat repairing the damage done. Procedural fairness, which was lacking in the first A second instance of complaining behaviour to the
service recovery attempt, was evident by a timely handling of the situation, resolving the problem before Mother's return home. Cat in the Hat was clearly empowered to make service recovery decisions without reference to senior management, and was able to make a timely recovery (Swan and Bowers, 1998). Interaction fairness was displayed by the Cat's handling of the mess identified by the clients as the negative outcome of the service failure. Geisel (1957) makes an interesting use of branding in service recovery by the Cat's continued reference to his service recovery behaviour as being part of the product line up of available tricks in his statements of "Have no fear of this mess said the Cat in the Hat I always pick up my playthings And so… I will show you another Good trick that I know!" Swift recovery of the negative situation, and addressing a solution to the needs created by the initial service failures allowed the Cat to prevent future complaining behaviours and redeem the Cat in a Hat brand name. Although the clients were unlikely to recommend the company to their supervisor (Mother), they were not left out of pocket by the service failures. (See also Geisel (1958) "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back" for further examples of the Cat's role in service recovery in the home cleaning industry)
Green Eggs and Ham: Promotion, Awareness and Trial Adoption Perhaps the most ambitious work of Geisel's extensive career was Green Eggs and Ham, which was based around only 50 different words. The stated purpose of the text was to teach young readers the 50 most important words by use of forced repetition. However,
Dr Seuss also inadvertently teaches a basic set of innovation adoption and promotional theories. "Green Eggs and Ham" were promoted as a new product by Sam-I-am, who used personal selling techniques combined with free product trial. Sam-I-am bases the initial approach with a teaser campaign, (as recommended by Stell and Paden (1999), to entice new use of the product) From the initial product rejection, the teaser campaign was expanded, offering an increased range of delivery options (product customisation to meet market needs). Continual rejection of the product by the target market was met with increased complication of the marketing message.
Peer pressure, and the demonstration of peer adoption of the product was also used (Belch and Belch, 1997). Social comparison information, particularly that of social pressure concerning product adoption was employed in an attempt to use peer pressure for adoption compliance to the marketing message (Bearden and Rose, 1990). In addition, the marketing message had become overly complicated (for further examples of the dangers of message complication, see Geisel (1965) "Fox in Socks"). It is noted at this point that awareness of the product remained high, as did unprompted recall by the consumer. This is evidenced by the rejection message which outlines the full list of comparative offerings as to where the customer may like green eggs and ham. I could not, would not on a boat I will not, will not with a goat I will not eat them in the rain I will not eat them on a train Not in the dark! Not in a tree! Not in a car! You let me be!* I do not like them in a box
I do not like them with a fox I will not eat them in a house I do not like them with a mouse I do not like them here or there I do not like them ANYWHERE!* I do not like green eggs and ham I do not like them, Sam-I-am (*Consumer frustration at the recurring sales pitch becomes increasingly more evident, possibly as a result of the high level of repetition creating a message burnout, - Belch and Belch, 1997)
Whilst awareness remains high, the product is still untried by the client. Dr Seuss may have been writing a scenario for teaching the use of fifty words, yet he was also demonstrated that awareness without adoption fails to achieve the objective of the organisation (Kelley, Hoffman and Carter, 1999). This was to become one of the most common complaints levelled at advertising in the late 1990s - it could create awareness but could it translate that awareness into adoption? (Aitchison and French-Blake, 1999). In the green eggs scenario, Dr Seuss demonstrates that integrating the promotional message of trial adoption with a free sample in a low pressure environment, provides a greater return than the high pressure awareness campaign. "You do not like them So you say Try Them! Try Them! And you may. Try them and you may, I say"
Sam! If you will let me be, I will try them You will see Trial adoption in this case was specified with the soft sell parameter in that trial adoption was contingent on the Bagozzi (1975) exchange parameter of freedom to leave the exchange being satisfied. After a positive post trial evaluation, green eggs and ham were adopted. Green eggs and ham illustrates the need for an emphasis on trial adoption ahead of brand recognition, and peer pressure, and illustrates the importance of consumer empowerment. Once the consumer felt they had been empowered to reject the offer with no negative consequences, they were willing to engage in trial adoption. Until this point of empowerment, they had resisted trial adoption based on their experience of rejecting the advertising message.
Sneetches on the Beaches: Branding, Image Transference and Social Meaning. Long before Nike invested millions into creating a tick logo known and recognised around the world as the "swoosh", Dr Seuss had written a classic story on the social impact of branding, and the meanings that can be attached to promotional imagery. "The Sneetches" outlined the social identification role played by the five pointed green Sneetch belly star, which authors such as McCracken (1989) would later formally recognise as the role of symbolic meaning. Dr Seuss, writing not long after the experiences of World War 2, and having been involved as a correspondent and documentary film maker, recognised the significance of the power of logos as being derived from cultural meanings: "Those stars weren't so big. There were really so small
You might think such a thing wouldn't matter at all. But, because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches Would brag, "we're the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches" The basis of status was associated with the endorsement given by the presence of the star (Ahmed and Zairi, 1999). However, as demonstrated by the intervention of Sylvester McMonkey McBean, and his Fix-it-Up services which offered both star insertion and removal, the value of the star was based on economic scarcity. The functionality of the star as a class identifying marker was dependent on the lower social groups not having access to it. When faced with a situation where star bellied Sneetches from the original group could no longer rely on the star as an identifying marker, they were forced to adopt a star-free policy as an identifier. Message confusion ensued as both star removal and star addition services were freely available, breaking down the scarcity of the image symbol, and allowing free access to both symbols for both class groups. The end result was the degradation of the message associated with the image symbol, which, incidentally broke down the Sneetch class system (for better or worse). Stars lost their market value as social identifiers once they had become too common a commodity in the Sneetch market. The need for exclusivity of image message was recognised by Dr Seuss long before Nike and Harley Davidson had invested heavily in branding, message identification and message targeting (see also Dr Seuss "Too Many Daves" on the importance of distinctive branding when dealing with an extensive product range of similar products).
Yertle the Turtle: Strategic Marketing, Service Staff and Planned Expansion The role and importance of frontline staff of the organisation was recognised by Seuss's short case study entitled "Yertle the Turtle", which was published in a compendium
volume "Yertle the Turtle and other stories" in 1965. The protagonist of the case study, a turtle king named Yertle, had defined his market share based on vision. "I'm ruler," said Yertle, of all that I see. But I don't see enough. That's the trouble for me" Having decided to expand his share of the market, Yertle employed a nine stack of turtles to form a larger throne, increasing his visual field to a mile. However, at the early stage of this expansion, the hierarchical organisational structure was exhibiting problems for the staff at the bottom of the organisation. Front line staff recorded complaints about the workload placed on their shoulders and back, and inquiries were made as to the duration of the expansion plans. Geisel (1965) notes at this point that the management structure fails to incorporate the needs of the frontline employees.
"SILENCE!" the king of the turtles backed back "I'm king, and you're only a turtle named Mack." "You stay in your place while I sit here and rule"
Viljoen and Dann (2000) point out the need for less hierarchical structures, and the disadvantages of believing that certain levels of employees should be excluded from the decision making processes. Zeithaml and Bitner (2000) also extol the value of integrating the employee into the company vision, arguing that integration leads to higher motivation and greater desire to be part of the overall structure. Yertle's hierarchical top down management structure, whilst only eight turtles removed from the frontline, already exhibited a dislocation from the needs of the frontline employees. Further, the failure to incorporate the frontline staff into the corporate vision led to reduced morale. Yertle's continued expansion of his visual domain extended to forty
miles, using a turtle throne estimated to be approximately 2000 turtles (Figures are inexact due to the loss of some records). Again, front line counter staff reported difficulties in maintaining service standards under the renewed pressure.
"Then again, from below, in the great heavy stack Came a groan from that plain little turtle named Mack "Your majesty please…I don't like to complain, But down here below we are feeling great pain. I know, up on top you are seeing great sights, But down at the bottom, we, too, should have rights."
The staff request for greater frontline empowerment, and equal load sharing was met with another text case of poor management.
"You hush up your mouth!" howled the mighty King Yertle You've no right to talk to the world's highest turtle."
The expansion of the organisational structure, now several thousand turtles removed from the frontline, had led Yertle to believe that management by decree was the only viable management structure. The opinions of the longer term employees at the bottom of the structure were ignored, including those of people who could recognise problems in the organisational structure at the implementation phase. Faced with an unsteady structure, Yertle believed a further expansion of his market share would compensate for the internal corporate problems. In addition, Yertle had shifted the basic goal of the organisation from seeing as far as he could see to being the highest object in the
environment. Goal shift resulted from an over emphasis on market expansion ahead of satisfying organisational goals, and looking after staff. Frontline employees (such as Mack) were left to support an organisation which was no longer responsive to their needs, disempowered them, and failed to incorporate their needs into the longer term vision of the organisation. When a minor hiccup (or in this case, burp) occurred in the service delivery, the organisation was unable to compensate.
"But, As Yertle, the Turtle King, lifted his hand And started to order and give the command That plain little turtle below in the stack That plain little turtle whose name was just Mack Decided he's taken enough. And he had. And that plain little lad got a little bid mad And that plain little Mack did a plain little thing. He burped! And his burp shook the throne of the king!"
The fundamental lessons for marketing concerning the need for carefully planned expansion, incorporation of service staff into corporate vision and the need for strong corporate structures were reinforced by Geisel (1965) in the second case "Gertrude McFuzz". The McFuzz case outlines the situation where unnecessary expansion to defeat a perceived competitor led to the downfall of the organisation. McFuzz, trying to outdo Lolla-Lee-Lou, increased her amount of tail feathers to an impressive, yet impractical 90 pounds. In the McFuzz case, a rescue package was organised through a range of assistance from family and creditors, including a massive scaling back of the
tail feather activities. Again, as with Yertle, the emphasis on the case was the dangers inherent in ad-hoc expansion with little or no regard to appropriate support structures.
The Lorax: Sustainable Enterprises, Green Marketing, and Listening to the Critics As a social commentator, Seuss was not averse to promoting controversial ideas through his works, and was able to deliver numerous social messages alongside his covert marketing education stream. One area of 'controversial' marketing pioneered by Seuss was the notion of "green marketing" or sustainable marketing, advocated in the 1971 text "The Lorax". Whilst most of green marketing appeared in the late 1990s, it should be considered that the generations who have most readily adopted the green movements have been those born after the publication of The Lorax. Sherry (2000) argues for marketing to take a more pro-social approach, and an emphasis on ecologically sustainable marketing practice, as evidenced by the content of The Lorax.
The text is remarkable for the insight it would later demonstrate into the hey-days of ethics-free marketing that characterised the late 1980s period.
"I laughed at the Lorax, "You poor stupid guy! You never can tell what some people will buy"
Significantly, the text also indicated that the emphasis placed on the bottom line (the singular bottom line) can often override the personal ethics of managers. As Lantos (1999) laments, too often the personal morals of the business person are left at the front door. Seuss (1971) also recognised this situation within The Lorax, where the Once-ler, (representing industry) is watching the first wave of departures from the region (due to
loss of income, and reduced standards of living inflicted by the Once-ler production lines)
I, the Oncer-ler, felt sad as I watched them all go. BUT… business is business! And Business must grow regardless of crummies in tummies, you know I meant no harm. I most truly did not. But I had to grow bigger. So bigger I got.
There is, at this point, an unfortunate tendency for many managers and business leaders, to place an emphasis on growth ahead of sustainability. Rather than measuring corporate longevity, their remuneration is tied to growth, and growth is seen as the only possible road to success. Whilst sustainability is often seen as an ethical consideration (Stainer and Stainer, 1997), there are financial incentives for controlling growth rates to a manageable level. However, as in the Lorax Case, many businesses simply follow the Once-ler principle:
I biggered my factory. I biggered my roads I biggered my wagons. I biggered the loads Of the Thneeds I shipped out… I went right on biggering…selling more Thneeds. And I biggered my money, which everyone needs.
Readers are reminded to stress the emphasis on the 'i' during reading the article, lest an unfortunate misunderstanding occur. Seuss demonstrated here that a corporate objective on growth at the expense of sustainability will have negative impacts on the environment (three specific social groups leave the area where the Once-ler factories are established). The success of the Thneed factory ends with the felling of the last Truffla tree, which results in the factory closing (whilst the workers apparently move to a new location, their ultimate employment fate is left unclear).
Whilst "The Lorax" is more depressing than the humour driven messages of "The Cat in the Hat" or the fast rhythmic pace of "Green Eggs and Ham" it also advocates a clear social marketing change strategy. Social marketing is defined as the simultaneous adoption of marketing philosophy and adaptation of marketing techniques to further causes leading to changes in individual behaviours which ultimately, in the view of the campaign’s originator, will result in socially beneficial outcomes (Dann 1996). Social change is attained through individual changes in behaviours which shape group and society behaviours, and is advocated by noted marketing luminaries such as Kotler, Roberto and Lee (2002) and Andreasen (1994).
"Now that you're here the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you Cares a whole awful lot, Nothing is going to get better. It's not."
CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATION OF THE RESEARCH Not for one moment do I want to claim that Theodor Geisel invented marketing. What this paper sets out to demonstrate is that marketing exists beyond the 4 Ps, outside of LISREL modelling and away from an obsessive focus on industry relevance. There are no real implications for industry because this piece has been about marketing, and the discipline of marketing.
This paper intentionally sets out to take a light hearted look at how marketing can be found in contemporary cultures from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. The emphasis has been on trying to demonstrate that much of marketing theory can be found in some of the darnedest places in both contemporary and classic society. Whether industry can learn from the lessons of Cat in the Hat, or advertising will heed the message complications of Fox in Socks is not the main concern of this paper.
Marketing itself needs to be able to look at itself, if necessary laugh at itself, and understand who and what it is, where it has come from, and how it has played a role in society. In a marketing discipline increasingly hung up on industry relevance, there needs to be a place for industry irrelevance. Post modern marketing may provide the haven for marketing thoughts not directly relevant to the bottom line of industry. It may also hold the key for discovering the next exchange theory through analysis of marketing in contemporary culture and society. But above all, it may just happen to find marketing hiding where no-one really expected it - classic children's literature.
Marketing is a social process, and the works of Dr Seuss are part of the socialisation process of many children, who along with learning basic literacy, are picking up basic marketing as an added bonus. The future of marketing may well depend on how many children accept the marketing activities of a Cat in a Hat as being a normal part of society, and how important the Sneetches stars were as social identifiers. Perhaps the future relevance of marketing could be encapsulated in a post Seussian statement "I am Kotler Kotler I am Do you like green eggs and marketing plans?"
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