Theology and Marketing

giambologna-the-flying-mercury-1350142439_bI returned last Thursday from a trip to Las Vegas (with my friend Bill Westwood) for a Round Table conversation on the nature of marketing, organised by my old friend Flint McGlaughlin. To the casual observer not much happened: a handful of leading marketing academics met with a small group of eccentric theologians, and a Harvard English literature Prof., for 2 hours conversation over fine cuisine. But I suspect I will look back in years to come and see this as an historic, milestone meeting.


On arrival at the McCarran International Airport I stood in line at the Passport Control next to a guy wearing black shoes with wings, just like the ones that the Roman god mercury would wear. Nice. And, given Mercury’s spheres of responsibilities, perhaps a providential welcome for a meeting to discuss the relationship between commerce, messaging (the essence of marketing) and the divine realm.

When I was 17 I had to make a choice. I was set to apply to university to study economics (with politics, psychology, or some such). The long term job prospects were good. But I had taken economics at school and had already come to some conclusions. For one thing, classical economic theory rests on basic assumptions that are patently untrue: like the one about people in the marketplace making rational decisions in their best interests. So I opted to study theology in the hope that it would give me clearer answers to the ultimate questions of life.

My economic theory never progressed beyond O Level (aged 16) and most of that is now buried deep in my cranial synapses. But our topic of conversation in Vegas—Value Proposition as the essence of marketing and a customer-centric business strategy—has stirred in me a quiet excitement that there may yet be a new vision for business that is beautiful, effective and aligned to some deep truths about the nature of God. I don’t, of course, mean the resurrection of the cult of the god Mercury. A return to once widespread superstitious theologies would be a tragic denial of our own privileges, as the species created in the image of God—to message ultimate value.

Anyhow, it was an honour to meet Michael Lanning (who coined the expression “Value Proposition”). I particularly enjoyed a longer conversation over beer and pizza with Professor Stephen Vargo (of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa) whose argument for a “Service-Dominant Logic” at the heart of business has, I suspect, far reaching implications. I was disappointed not to have more time with others at the Round Table itself. But perhaps there will be more meetings like this one.


  • Chris Green says:

    John Lewis is a good example of a successful business that has goals and values beyond just profit and today’s share price

  • Roger says:

    Encouraging to read this – back in December I got a bit steamed-up about the commercial world and posted a blog about it; not in the same league as the Vegas gathering…., very much a ‘starter’ but for what it’s worth here it is! ;

    One of the things that marked Jesus out was His readiness to speak up about the systems operating in the Society of the time. His observations often cut across the accepted norms and emphasised the need for the structuring of civil, military and religious life to serve the needs of the people rather than the other way round. For example He said that the Sabbath was given as a helpful thing for us to use, rather then it being there as a ‘Task Master’ to determine what we do….., or at least that’s my take on what He said in Mark 2;27!

    To my eyes however it seems in the ‘Westernised’ World more common today for ‘systems’ to exert a tyrannical domination over us. An example that has come to me often recently is the ‘domain’ of Commerce. I’m a firm believer in business, manufacturing and trade – they’re the necessary wheels that go round to give each of us what we need to survive and thrive in body, soul and spirit. They’re also the arena where many people can most readily exercise their skills and abilities. It seems to me though that rather than Commerce existing to support the needs of the population, the population now exists to support the needs of Commerce. I’m not pointing a finger of blame at ‘Governments’, ‘Bosses’, ‘CEOs’ ‘Boards’ and ‘Managers’ here……., I believe they’re as much a victim to this as anyone else!

    I well remember School classrooms I went through in the late 60′s and 70′s breeding an expectation of future ‘sufficiency’; that as population increased and resources were tapped into we’d all have enough to live and develop as human beings, valued for who we are rather than what we do. We’d all be working a couple of days a week and be able to live a non-employed life for the remainder. As well as enabling leisure, such ‘free’ time would allow people to contribute to Society in new and unforeseen ways to the benefit of both the Developed and un-Developed World.

    The reality is that we occupy a world that sucks us into an ever-increasing workload for fewer and fewer, the rejection of the contribution of others and a bizarre belief that we’ve got it ‘right’. Society seems to exist in a state of stagnation determined by the prevailing circumstances of 50 years ago! The most imaginative solution to the difficulties facing the UK is exemplified by the pushing of the pensionable age further and further back – a move denying the chance of older people to contribute in ways other than work and making it even more difficult for the young to access work in the first place.

    Maybe it’s time for those of us who believe we have a relationship with the Creator of the World to raise some more creative options to set alongside the current headlong dash into more-of-the-same?

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