So, are we all officers now?


Marketing Misc

An A to Z of Modern Marketing

O is for Officer


Marketing has not escaped the great inflation of titles that is such a characteristic of the modern business world. Far from it, marketeers have been in the avant-garde of such tactics for gentrification.

In the 1960s, as marketing became the hot new function (remember even then customers were big data), ‘marketing manager’ was a title that said it all. But as the onward charge of the brand stormtroopers described by Hugh Davidson in OffensiveMarketing became  irresistible, the resultant demand for career progression soon created a whole new hierarchy of titles: senior marketing manager, category marketing manager, trade marketing manager, marketing controller, head of strategic marketing and so on.

Before you could say ‘matrix’, the more successful branding folk were getting appointed to the board as marketing directors, often edge-ing out old-school sales directors: the science of fact-based demand management trumping the soft art of the trade marketing lunch.

This phenomenon is not particularly new of course. In the Middle Ages, harassed and/or hard-up kings of England found inventing new titles a convenient way of managing talent in challenging times. The old English matiness of Knight, Baron, Earl was supplemented in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries with the more continental and hence racy titles of Baronet, Viscount, Marquis and Duke.

We are still doing the same 500 years later. As we entered the new millennium, organisational bigwigs were crowned CEOs – Chief Executive Officers. The use of the word officer in this context was an innovation and an interesting one at that. Officers as opposed to other ranks, perhaps? Officeholders and functionaries; bureaucrats and dignitaries – these are the synonyms Susie Dent might discover for the word in her Oxford Dictionary corner.

Predictably, the Officeritismax virus began to spread rapidly through corporations. As ever, marketeers showed the least resistance and suddenly there was an epidemic of Chief Marketing Officers. But it didn’t stop there, and soon all other functional Grands Fromages in their C-Suite eyries wanted to get in on the act. Next minute, learned business magazines were telling us that the ‘CMO- CTO- CFO partnership’ is a key success factor. The virus is still virulent. We now have Chief Demand Officers, Chief Innovation Officers, Chief Customer Officers and even Chief Experience Officers

In the 1960s, just as marketing was diffusing through UK businesses, the British historian Lawrence Stone was writing about the counterproductive effects of title inflation in the seventeenth century and its negative impact on respect for the management régimes of the day, something he argued which certainly contributed to the outbreak of the English Civil war: “The greater the wealth and more even its distribution in a given society,” he observed “the emptier become titles of personal distinction, but the more they multiply and are striven for.” He called this Tawney’s Law. Those of us who care about marketing should remember Tawney’s Law and think carefully before we launch the next squad of marketing officers onto an increasingly sceptical world. We should recall that the title of my favourite episode of Minder featuring George Cole as the roguish Arthur Daley, was called An Officer and a Car Salesman.

2 thoughts on “So, are we all officers now?

  1. I think an epidemiologist investigating the source of the Officeritismax virus might also look at another strain of corporate illness, the preposterous qualification.

    It amuses me the way somebody doing an important, yet fundamentally dull job of improving business performance, can now call him/her/itself (trying not to be gender specific here) a “Six Sigma Ninja” – then post this proudly on Linked In with no sense of irony. It is quite silly, but somebody is making a nice few quid out of it.

    The truth is most jobs suck and that is why we get paid. If work was fun, we would pay our employers.

    To make the quotidian grind more palatable jobs are dressed up with titles to flatter the egos of the corporate salary person. However, Edith Wharton has a great quote that insects would not lay their eggs on the frail strands of human vanity…

  2. Although rather fond of a high and mighty sounding job title myself, Marketing No. 1, No.2….No.10 etc would be an interesting alternative. Imagine the squirming at having to be open about who felt to be better than whom…. Even more interesting if done on the basis of perceived potential!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *