Gordon speaks at the Marketing Institute breakfast


Former C&C and Glanbia marketer Colin Gordon is the first to speak in a new series of Breakfast Conversations from the Marketing Institute starting this week. Gordon wrote a book called Marketing is in Trouble that highlights how the problems came about and the 10 steps it takes for professionals in the industry to see improvement.

See John Fanning’s report on Marketing Is In Trouble Below.

MCCP, Kay McCarthy’s planning agency, is again sponsoring the Marketing Institute talks. The agency’s collaboration will focus on navigating recovery and will include eight breakfast events with guest speakers. For more information on the Marketing Institute’s breakfast schedule and how to register for Trouble, What Trouble? Event, click here

Much knowledge in Gordon’s book

John Fanning reviews Colin Gordon’s book Marketing is in Trouble and explains how it happened and the 10 steps to get us out of it

When I was in advertising for the last few decades of the last century, it never occurred to me that we weren’t an extremely talented lot and that the clients we reported to weren’t highly regarded for the companies they worked for and were critical. However, a 1994 report by Coopers & Lybrand, Marketing at the Crossroads, implied we were a nondescript, unprofessional shower of high achievers.

Since then, a number of global accounting firms and management consultancies have regularly published reports in the same vein, and no one ever seems to ask Mandy Rice-Davies’ obvious question: well, they’d say that, right? After all, they’re just trying to steal our business. After 25 years of effort, they seem to have admitted defeat and are buying up agencies instead.

However, the global debate about the competence and professionalism of marketing staff continues and inevitably has a detrimental effect on securing the investments required for long-term branding. One of Ireland’s most experienced marketers, Colin Gordon, has now found a welcome entry into the debate.


While the title of Gordon’s new book, Marketing Is In Trouble, accepts that all is not well, his comments are shaped by a stellar career that has worked for some of the most successful brands in the Irish market over the past 40 years. This includes Bulmers in the 90s and more recently Avonmore Super Milk.

The former, in my opinion, is one of the Irish marketing effectiveness achievements celebrated in a number of volumes of the IAPI AdFx Awards and Marketer of the Year. John Keogh was the eventual winner for the brand’s continued success in 2001. Anyone who works in Irish Marketing should be familiar with the details of the case study. The same applies to the Super Milk campaign.

Convincing consumers to pay a premium price for a commodity product in a declining market is a great achievement. Gordon rightly points out that too often marketing is viewed as “something special”, separate from the entire organization, having serious but meaningless discussions about “influencers” or the latest shiny new digital platform during the actual strategic decisions taken elsewhere.


He recommends systematically “examining everything or everyone inside or outside the company, which directly or indirectly affects how the product or service is bought or experienced”. If marketers had full control over all of these touchpoints, they would have more leverage over their business and those deals would be more successful. However, there are obstacles to overcome.

The book rightly accepts that marketing is always the loser in prioritizing the here and now. Criticism of his contribution began in the 1980s and 90s, when the financialization of the economy was in full swing. Financial skull digging and accounting gymnastics produce more immediate returns than the long-term returns obtained from professional long-term marketing and branding.

In a crisis: Damien McLoughlin, Professor of Marketing at UCD’s Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, points out in his foreword to Colin Gordon’s book, Marketing in Trouble, that the work of Byron Sharp, and Andrew Enhrenberg before him, has provided valuable brand growth ideas . McLoughlin then asks: Why then do we have strong consensus about the problems marketers need to solve? Colin Gordon is pictured with Barry Dooley, General Manager of AAI.

Gordon says boardrooms are still too focused on bonus structures and stock prices, but after the 2008 recession, the dangers of over-focusing on short-term financial returns are much better understood, causing progressive companies to forego quarterly returns altogether.

First principles

In this quieter atmosphere, marketing can regain its role as the main strategic driver of businesses, but it needs to get back to the first principles. It will not be easy; One of the book’s most depressing statistics is the fact that 80 percent of Cannes Lions awards are now used for one-time activations.

Gordon’s book repeatedly brings us back to the first principles; From the four Ps that are still relevant in the digital age, to the critical role of sales that is all too often ignored by marketers. The text is enlivened by various quotations, from the 14th century Islamic scholar Ibn Taymivyah, the 18th century British philosophers John Locke and Adam Smith to today’s marketing gurus Mark Ritson and Rory Sutherland.

An equally wide range of case studies are also cited, including – nice touch – two local Gordon retailers, the Corner Note Café in Dalkey and Cavistons of Glasthule; Both of them were able to give their much larger competitors a few marketing lessons. There is much to digest and more to learn from marketing is in trouble.

John Fanning lectures on branding and marketing communications at UCD Smurfit Graduate Business School. john.fanning44@gmail.com

This book review was first published in the January issue of Marketing.ie magazine