On the shelf: The Lucky Marketeer - Golden Days of the Drinks Trade

Nick Hudson, head of marketing at Marketing Edinburgh, reviews The Lucky Marketeer by Tim Ambler.

The Lucky Marketeer - Golden Days of the Drinks Trade

Tim Ambler warns us in his opening paragraph about the likely similarity of his memoirs to those dreadful Christmas "round robin" letters, only, being longer, worse. Reading about his education at Downside, national service in Singapore, studying sums at St John's College, Oxford, then qualifying as an accountant, I was inclined to agree.

Then, on page 128, with typically brutal simplicity of thought, he observes during a stint at MIT Sloan School of Management how too many accountants not only join company boards but become CEOs: "At best, accountants keep score: they do not make runs. My Pauline conversion from accountant to marketing had taken place." And from then on I was hooked.

Anyone who has worked in the drinks trade (prior to my current role, I was head of marketing communications at Heineken UK and worked as NPD manager at United Distillers) will be fascinated by the various deals and takeovers, which resulted in the creation of the powerhouses that now dominate the industry.

They may also be surprised by the fact that Ambler was instrumental in drawing up the Portman Group's Code of Practice (the group is the responsibility body for drinks producers in the UK). He is equally matter-of-fact about his role in Smirnoff's highly successful "Shattering" ad campaign and the creation of the Baileys, Malibu, Russchian and Piat d'Or brands.

Ambler's move into academia highlights the lack of crossover between academic theorists and real-world practitioners; neither is much interested in the other and both are, he contends, followers of fashion. But for me, the most impressive of Ambler's many achievements is his ability to distil the complex world of marketing theory into a few simple thoughts, often in a pithy footnote.

A note on the book on Amazon says: "The self effacing sub-plot is based on the concept of Tim's lifespan being part of 'The Lucky Generation' - a time when anybody could get a job, profit from house inflation, not have to fight a war etc, but one wonders whether it's really more an enactment of the golfer Lee Trevino's well known adage 'The more I practise the luckier I get.'"

The author covers an extraordinary amount of ground and, despite its humble title, this is essential marketing reading.


If you only have time for this ... six key points from the book.

1. Marketers' fixation on metrics means they confuse the measurement of success with its underlying drivers. As a result they and their boards spend too much time spending and counting money, but, typically, only 15% on how to make it.

2. Micro economic theory is bunkum since it uses the term "utility", like accountants use a balancing number, to plug the huge gap caused by unexplained consumer behaviour.

3. Be sceptical of econometrics, the chief tool of micro economists, since it is an example of "SONKing" - Andrew Ehrenberg's term for the Scientification of Non-Knowledge.

4. Ehrenberg's work explaining the relationships between various key measures is of limited use in the real world since it applies only in a stable market and overstates market share at the expense of relative price.

5. Marketing theory falls into three camps: 4Ps (product, place, price, promotion), strategy (characterised by Michael Porter) and relationships (see David Aaker's work on brand equity).

6. While relationship marketing is relatively new in the West, Guanxi is the Chinese word to describe their culture of building a relationship before doing business with someone.