The Four P’s

 Posted by on September 15, 2015 at 9:07 am  Mad Men, Season 7
Sep 152015

fourpsOne of my all-time favorite movie scenes about the business world is Alec Baldwin’s “coffee’s for closers” speech from Glengarry Glen Ross. During his tirade directed at a captive audience of disenchanted salesmen, Baldwin points to a chalkboard with the acronym “AIDA” (attention, interest, desire, action) written across it. The AIDA concept can be found in any marketing textbook and describes the stages of consumer reactions to sales and promotional efforts.  The movie gets it exactly right.

An element of  Mad Men Episode 7.01, Time Zones that didn’t feel quite right were discussions involving another marketing concept, the “four Ps.” Not that the episode got anything particularly wrong. It’s just that, in my opinion, the dialogue didn’t ring true.

During his meeting with Joan, business school jackass, Wayne Barnes, tells her that he’s being paid by Butler to consider the “four P’s” of the “marketing mixture” (actually it’s “marketing mix” – but okay) as part of his job to formulate a “bold” business strategy for the shoe company. I couldn’t help but think that term was put into the script to add a sense of authenticity to the story.

An argument can certainly be made that Barnes referenced the four P’s in a condescending manner as a way of proving how much smarter he was than Joan. This character flaw in Barnes could have been just as effectively depicted by him metaphorically waving his MBA in Joan’s face.

Later, when Joan offhandedly references the four P’s to a business professor at Columbia University, the professor acts surprised and asks “Do you have an MBA?” While the professor was himself a bit patronizing to Joan, I didn’t buy his surprised reaction. Imagine Neil deGrasse Tyson being taken aback and asking if someone had studied quantum physics simply because they used the term “string theory” in a sentence (and that’s REALLY complicated stuff).

The term “marketing mix” was first used by Neil Borden in 1953. E. Jerome McCarthy introduced the “four P’s” in 1960. By 1969, the concept would probably have been somewhat widely established in business circles and not nearly as esoteric as “Time Zones” would have us believe. I’m not calling this an anachronism. However, as Detective Arbogast famously said in PSYCHO, “if it doesn’t jell, it isn’t aspic, and this ain’t jelling.

To quickly summarize, the four P’s represent basic questions every company should answer when developing their marketing strategy. They include product, promotion, price and place.

Product – WHAT is it that you sell and why would your target market want it (features and benefits)?

Promotion – How will you COMMUNICATE the features and benefits of your product to your customers? This includes sales, advertising, public relations, and other sales promotion efforts (coupons, for instance). Because advertising is so ubiquitous in our culture, this is what most people think of when they hear the word “marketing.” But promotion is just one piece of the puzzle.

Price – HOW MUCH will you charge your customers for your product?

Place – WHERE will customers go to get your product. This is also referred to as “distribution” (but that doesn’t start with a “p”). Place is probably the most boring element of the four P’s. Some college textbooks on distribution are still printed in black and white. Yet, distribution decisions are equally important as the other three.

While each of the four P’s is a separate element, a sound marketing strategy must consider them in total. For instance, a parachute company should probably not strive to sell “the cheapest damn chutes on the market.”  Fairly or unfairly, a product’s price communicates something about its quality in the mind of the consumer. Would YOU want to use the “cheapest damn chute on the market?”

All that said, the bold moveprofessor Barnes was discussing with Joan was more about budgetary planning than the marketing mix per se. The four P’s really didn’t have all that much to do with it. From a narrative standpoint, the purpose of the Butler storyline was to rightly establish how Joan has grown into a very sharp business person. To that end, the four P’s served as a device to link Joan’s scene with Barnes to the one with the professor at Columbia.

I think a better way to accomplish the same thing could have been something like this: Barnes spouts his bean-counter accounting jargon to Joan at the bar. Joan counters that he’s being hasty. To which Barnes replies, “Who’s the one with the MBA here?” Later, Joan reveals (explicitly or implicitly) to the professor that a lack of “formal” business training is a hindrance for her in this situation. After which, Joan proves her mettle by demonstrating a complete mastery of the business side of advertising. The scene ends with the professor looking at the pads and pads of notes he’s taken on agency billing practices and saying, “Very impressive, Mrs. Harris. You know Rockefeller didn’t have an MBA either.”

I’d have given that approach an “A” (grading on the curve, anyway).


  One Response to “The Four P’s”

  1. Incidentally, Rockefeller entered business in the 1850s, and was accused of profiteering during the Civil War. All that oil that Standard refined was used in kerosene lamps. MBAs didn’t exist.
    Anyway, perhaps it would have been conveyed better by a respectful expression on the professor’s face.

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