Editorial: Marketing's come of age but challenges lie ahead

It's a remarkable testament to the regard in which the Marketing Society is held that 1,300 people were willing to turn up to its 50th birthday this week.

As marketing continues to grow in importance within the commercial world, the society continues to do an outstanding job in helping refine the discipline and keep its practitioners alert to their collective challenges.

In doing so, it has won credibility and respect. So much so that leading commercial and political figures rarely pass up the opportunity to speak at a society event. Indeed, its conference this week boasted a stellar cast list - from Barclaycard's chief executive, Anthony Jenkins, to the new COI boss, Mark Lund, and London's mayor, Boris Johnson.

It's a far cry from 1959 when the society's founder members met every few weeks for lunch to discuss topics of common interest. These were informal gatherings that reflected much simpler times. Commercial TV, still in its infancy, was still almost the exclusive preserve of FMCG manufacturers and had yet to make its full impact on mass marketing.

How different from today's fragmented media landscape. Fifty years ago, marketing was still the "slave" of production and its principal purpose was to persuade customers that one manufacturer's goods were better than its rivals'.

Not anymore. Many of today's major organisations now put marketing at the heart of what they do. "Marketing is in our DNA," Cathryn Sleight, the Coca-Cola GB marketing director, says, reflecting a widely held boardroom view.

With marketing's status more secure, the society's challenge is two-fold. The first is to guide members through a much-altered landscape where TV remains a powerful advertising force but mass marketing is giving way to one-to-one conversations between companies and consumers.

The second is how marketers confront the complex issue of sustainability. How will marketers adapt when it's ever more obvious that uncontrolled consumption can't continue if global warming is to be stemmed?

They are big questions that look likely to be occupying the society's collective mind for much of its next 50 years.