Re-Envisioning Marketing: One Chocolate Bar at a Time

For most people, the journey into the world of marketing starts on the wrong foot: with the misleading proposition that marketing is the process of communicating value to consumers, thereby satisfying their needs and wants.

Rooted in the economic argument that markets are what you get when supply meets demand, this standard definition of marketing is deeply engrained in the popular imagination.

To address this problem, I dedicate every first marketing lecture to making chocolate bars.

Here is my official chocolate bar recipe (the full recipe is of course a well kept secret):

Place cocoa and butter in a processor and mix until they form a paste. Fill a pan about ¼ full with water. Then place the bowl on top of the water. Put the chocolate paste in the bowl and then heat until liquid. Put the mixture back in the processor and mix till smooth. Then warm the milk to room temperature. Add sugar, flour and milk and mix well. Pour the mixture into molds and place it in a fridge till they become hard.

What do we experience when we turn the MBA classroom into a chocolate factory?

Making chocolate bars requires a fair bit of effort on our part. For instance, milk is creamy and cocoa is sweet but no creamy and sweet chocolate will appear unless we convince our ingredients to connect. And so we do things to them: we mix them, heat them up, press them into a form, and cool them down.

Plus we need some tools to do this: bowls, pans, mixers, molds, fridges.

So what’s the true power of chocolate?

This question guides the second part of the chocolate lecture.

Here are three takeaways:

First, chocolate teaches us a lesson about connectedness.

A simple piece of chocolate is actually an entry point into an entire network of people and things. It spans ingredients, continents, and biographies. It links logistical and supply chain networks to biological, ecological, and emotional concerns. It bridges sustainability and labour rights with expectations on romantic dates. It evokes midnight snacking rituals, obesity, and family togetherness.

Second, chocolate sheds a different light on value.

In order for chocolate to retain its value, the network must be held together. All ingredients must constantly enact their ascribed roles. Milk must thicken, bars must crunch, truck drivers must deliver, fridges must cool, consumers must crave…

And third, chocolate gives us a better definition of what marketers actually do.

Marketers do not merely communicate value.

They assemble value by nurturing other peoples’ and things’ capacity to interact.

Marketers make chocolate.

Day after day and against a backdrop of constantly changing conditions.

And now take the pieces out and munch away!

Markus Giesler

Markus Giesler draws on concepts from economics, technology studies, and sociology to inform his research in marketing. He determines how ideas and things (products, services, experiences, technological innovations, intellectual property, brands, etc.) are made valuable over time, with research focused on improving marketing strategy through an understanding of markets as evolving social systems. Giesler's research has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the European Research Council (ERC) and published in top-tier academic journals such as the Journal of Consumer Research and the Journal of Marketing. Giesler has an extensive entertainment industry background. He founded his own record label at age 17 and has worked in various production and marketing responsibilities for over a decade. He lives in Toronto, Canada.