Marketing as dance: Changing the rhetoric of war in marketing through critical research on persuasion and metaphors

Joelena Leader

Dr. Marjorie Delbaere is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the Edwards School of Business who is exploring the interplay between the persuasive use of language and images, and consumer knowledge transfer in the marketing of controversial products such as prescription drugs. Her research focuses on the marketing of pharmaceuticals directly to the consumer and was awarded a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) grant for the research project: "The Influence of Analogies on Consumer Learning from Direct to Consumer Drug Advertising."She is specifically interested in how language and images portray metaphors and analogies.

"I’ve always been intrigued by marketing and persuasion in controversial contexts."

Dr. Marjorie DelbaereDelbaere's work explores effective ways of communicating about controversial products that tend to be complex and not easily understood by consumers. Utilizing methods such as content assessment, content and thematic analysis and experiments, she examines prevalent metaphors and participant reactions towards ads for prescription drugs.  Commenting on her interest and motivation for research in this area, Delbaere said: "I’ve always been intrigued by marketing and persuasion in controversial contexts. Not the usual branding or marketing situation where let’s say you would have a consumer, packaged good and then you would develop the brand and you know who the target market is, and there’s really not a lot of controversy. What do you do when you have all this marketing knowledge that we’ve built up around marketing things like shampoo and chocolate bars, and then you apply them to a non-conventional situation such as prescription drugs? What happens, what changes, what stays the same when you apply all the same techniques and tactics in this now much more controversial and unconventional situation?" According to Delbaere, the dynamics that normally exist between marketers, consumers and producers change. While it has always been important for marketers to consider ethics, she suggests that it becomes extremely critical to examine ethical aspects when it is something like a prescription drug or a controlled substance. She has adopted the use of metaphors and persuasive tools to promote better consumer understanding.

"We have suggested this idea of marketing as dance. It’s a much more productive, creative, and collaborative metaphor as opposed to that of warfare where it’s a zero-sum-game."

Delbaere’s recent work draws on conceptual metaphors – underlying metaphors that are implicit and powerfully impact how we see the world and shape our understanding. She commented: “The whole idea of illness seen as a journey, while medicine is often seen as war – the war on drugs or the war on cancer. Medicine and doctors are allies in the fight against the disease. That really intrigues me. How do we use these metaphors and how do they colour our understanding of conditions?” Drawing from this line of inquiry, Delbaere has critiqued the marketing as warfare rhetoric suggesting that there are more constructive and creative commentaries that can be offered. She explores the meaning of guerilla marketing and its relationship to guerilla warfare with her students and asks them how comfortable they are in applying these tactics to consumers – the notion of demoralizing the enemy with small attacks before a largescale campaign. Delbaere suggests that the use of military strategy in marketing is an important topic to talk about. “Can we suggest something that might be better?” she asks. "We have suggested this idea of marketing as dance. It’s a much more productive, creative, and collaborative metaphor as opposed to that of warfare where it's a zero-sum-game."  Delbaere explains how this work falls under the realm of responsible business, commenting that: "it is our responsibility to recognize that war rhetoric is frequently used to talk about business or marketing and if we want to make a change, we need to look at the language that we use."

To learn more about Marjorie Delbaere’s work, check out her profile page!

Recent Publication Hightlights

Dr. Delbaere's research has been published in refereed journals including Journal of Advertising, Social Science & Medicine, Health Marketing Quarterly, and Journal of Strategic Marketing.

Delbaere, Marjorie and Slobodzian, Adam (2018), "Marketing’s metaphors have expired: An argument for a new dominant metaphor," Marketing Theory, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1470593118796697 

Hunter, Paulette, Delbaere, Marjorie, O'Connell, Megan E., Cammer, Allison,  Seaton, Jennifer Friedrich, Trista, Fick, Fiona (2017), “Did online publishers "get it right"? Using a naturalistic search strategy to review cognitive health promotion content on Internet webpages,” BMC Geriatrics, 17:125 DOI 10.1186/s12877-017-0515-3.

Delbaere, Marjorie and Erin Willis (2015), “Direct-to-consumer advertising and the role of hope,” Journal of Medical Marketing, 15(1-2), 26-38.

Wei, Mei-Ling, and Marjorie Delbaere (2015), “Do consumers perceive their doctors as influenced by pharmaceutical marketing communications? A persuasion knowledge perspective,” International Journal of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Marketing, 9(4), 330-348.

Delbaere, Marjorie and Malcolm C. Smith (2014), “Literally Experts: Expertise and the Processing of Analogical Metaphors in Pharmaceutical Advertising,” Health Marketing Quarterly, 31(2), 115-135.

Delbaere, Marjorie (2013), “Metaphors and Myths in Pharmaceutical Advertising,” Social Science & Medicine, 21(April), 21-29.


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