The impudent breed

While doing some groundwork for our next Marketing and Communications Strategy, I came across this quote from Gilles Deleuze: ‘Marketing has become the centre or the “soul” of the corporation’ (in Du Gay, P. (2000), “Markets and meanings: re-imagining organisational life”, in Schultz, M., Hatch, M.J., Larsen, M.H. (Eds),The Expressive Organization, OUP – itself an interesting article about the role of ‘disciplines of symbolic expertise’ in modern organisations).

Deleuze isn’t implying that a marketing-ensoulled organisation is a good thing, as a broader quoting of the passage indicates: ‘Corruption thereby gains a new power. Marketing has become the centre or the “soul” of the corporation. We are taught that corporations have a soul, which is the most terrifying news in the world.’

He goes on to say that ‘The operation of markets is now the instrument of social control and forms the impudent breed of our masters‘ (italics mine). I like the phrase ‘the impudent breed’ – like a sequel to This Happy Breed, perhaps, based on a group of cheeky (yet evil and omnipotent) marketing folks; or a departmental strapline; or perhaps a title for yet another blog. I’m by no means sure that I follow what is meant (perhaps it’s a hard to translate passage – I can’t quite following what is forming who and where the impudence comes from).

Difficulties with translation aside, I’ve found my first conscious dip into Deleuze quite exhilarating. For a piece published in 1990 it seem remarkably prescient in its description of a ‘control society’ where the computer is the defining technology, continuous monitoring places everyone in a universal system, where one is ‘undulatory, in orbit, in a continuous network’ and ‘Everywhere surfing has already replaced the older sports’.

By empathising with a piece that situates ‘marketing’ within a dystopian vision, am I adopting a position which would logically lead me to seek a different line of work? Possibly, though I would make a case for social marketing as being somewhat more benevolent than the control-force of late capitalism, and point out that marketing for a university is an enabling structure for exploration of radical thought to take place, Deleuze’ ideas being just one example.

The whole article can be read here.

Truly Madly Broadly

Widening participation sounds like a good thing – but wouldn’t deepening participation be even better? Maybe so, if ‘deepening’ means getting through to the hardest-to-reach groups; reaching further and benefiting folks who would otherwise miss out on HE, rather than just expanding numbers.

However, John Hayes, Shadow Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, uses ‘deepening’ in a pejorative sense, in his speech From social engineering to social aspiration: Strategies to broaden access to higher education. He criticises the Government for ‘its narrow focus…resulting in deeper rather than wider participation; deeply drawing on the shrinking pool of students from the same social class as generations of graduates before them’ and indicates that ‘In place of this failed strategy of deepening participation for the few’ he wants to ‘broaden access for the many’. So, in Hayes language, ‘widening’ (which may have sounded good) has been a trojan horse for ‘deepening’ (bad); what we really want is ‘broadening’.

The specialist language may take a while to settle down. Meanwhile, whatever it’s called, work is going on to get more people to join in the university experience. So what can marketing bring to the party? Pondering the problem of getting new people into HE, classic marketers may turn to the Ansoff matrix:


This shows new and existing products being offered with new and existing audiences, offering a menu of strategic approaches. What Hayes refers to as ‘deepening’, ie getting more of the same kind of people, forms the top of the matrix. You can do this by ‘market penetration’, simply getting more of them interested in the same old stuff, say by better advertising to your historical customer base. Or, you can field some new products – so your existing customers can buy groovy new stuff from you (like when supermarkets started offering financial services.)

These are considered to be the safer options. Down at the bottom, Ansoff offers two ways to access new markets (so pay attention, WP-sters – this is where marketing proves it can do more than design your leaflets). You can develop your market, by making your existing products appeal to some fab new people. (Those Playstations for pensioners, for instance.) Or, in the really high-risk quadrant, you can offer brand new things to brand new people: diversification. (There are some examples from Edge Hill – Foundation Degrees for Early Years professionals for instance – a new qualification for a new group of students.)

Of course, marketing isn’t about putting people in boxes. No-one wants to be objectified by marketers, social theorists or anyone else – you may recall, or be able to imagine, Hannibal Lecter’s reaction to being quizzed by a census-taker – extreme, perhaps, but understandable. But such things can be useful as a thought experiment. If we want to widen, deepen, broaden, or simply invigorate the process of people joining the HE party, then we might consider which quadrant we’re in. Are we enhancing the appeal of what we already do? Or developing altogether new things ? Both approaches require considerable resource and creativity, though maybe different kinds of resource and creativity.

The Web: a Powerful Recruitment and Communication Tool

This was the title of a one-day CASE seminar earlier this week, which brought together HE marketing and web people. I think this has been a community waiting to exist, judging by the level of interest. Alison Wildish was introduced as being the ‘presiding mind’ for the day, and the sessions she had pulled together, and her introductory overview, were excellent. It could have been called ‘beyond the website’ as so much of the interesting stuff has little to do with static web pages – social networks, social bookmarking, tagged content, channels of user-generated stuff. I came away with a lot to digest having had rewarding chats with contacts old and new – so a very worthwhile day.

I was billed as talking about ‘the modern approach’, and various other sessions were about ‘traditional’ versus ‘modern’, so I riffed on the idea of postmodern being a better way of thinking about these things, as
– The web can be seen as a postmodern phenomenon (eclectic, virtual, centre-less, ephemeral, interconnected, non-hierarchical etc.)
– therefore if (to some extent) we live in a postmodern world then the web is highly fit for purpose in engaging with it.

Other stuff I touched on included
– The iGeneration (digital natives) have new expectations that we should meet, such as easy access to information, interactivity, access to information through their channel and device of choice, but
– at the same time we have traditional audiences to satisfy.
– Building relationships with potential students through genuine interactivity is a good thing to focus on.

To illustrate this last point I talked about our Hi site which excited a lot of interest. Dolt that I am, I forgot to mention that it has won an award (of which more later…)

Alison has created a Ning community for the event, where the discussions continue:

no object

Professor Tomasz Pobog-Malinowski promised, and delivered, ‘a rollercoaster ride through photographs depicting our civilisation’s obsession with objects, with images of objects and with our search for “objectivity”’ in his inaugural lecture last night. His 85 slides took us through ‘Objects of desire, objects of love, of hate, of consumption, of fetish, of virtu, of exercise, of political aim … ‘, a vast range encompassing a giant Swiss Army knife with (coincidentally) 85 blades, artworks by Peter Greenaway, Man Ray, Holbein and others, God and (courtesy of Blackwells) the Mother of God as inscribed on toast.

An object
An object.

In a presentation that was by turns beautiful, alarming, and dryly witty, Prof Malinowski provoked us into thinking about ‘What is real, what is fake, what is virtual?’ in a world of ‘manufactured objectivity’.

‘Weave a web so magnificent’

There aren’t many songs inspired by university publicity materials – in fact ‘The Birmingham School of Business School’ by the Fall (1992) could be the only one. Perhaps everything in the world comes in for withering poetic scorn at the hands of Mark E. Smith at some point. For instance, he has a go at my home town in his new book. The sometimes cliche-ridden products of HE marketing had to take their turn…

The lyrics include some painfully familiar terms, such as ‘the big heart of England’ – painful at least to someone like me who used to work promoting HE in the West Midlands and reached for such phrases on a regular basis. Other fragments are just the kind of thing that seem to form part of the stock register of this type of discourse: ‘exciting developments’, ‘its main theme’… However being a Fall song it’s full of inexplicable, tangential references – whippoorwills, Lee Coopers, ‘disguise in the art of conceit’ and ‘prisoner robotics’.

I’m looking at some draft Business School material now so I’ll try not to be too influenced by the Manchester Prole Art Threat.


Folks may have seen the new-look website, new Prospectus, and maybe the new stands and literature used at careers fairs. This stuff is just the beginning of an integrated student recruitment campaign for 2009, which will eventually include promotional activities in the summer and autumn, and applicant communication leading up to enrolment. Significant increases in enquiry levels suggest our instincts and research have been right and that we’re developing work that expresses the desirable reality of Edge Hill in a compelling way.

We’ll be blogging more about the ethos of the campaign on an internal-only site – as revealing the dark secrets and inner workings could blast the minds of mere mortals, and we have to be mindful of health and safety… but I’ll just say that our approach to branding is a direction and style rather than a set of templates or a cheesy slogan. The work will evolve over the coming months, spawning fresh and interesting manifestations.

This could of course mean retirement for Jez, the animated character who has appeared in our TV commercials for the past three years. Hopefully axing the little chap won’t be too unpopular; it’s not as if we’re sacking the ducks…