David Marshall

Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour at The University of Edinburgh

Ben Somerset-How

Client Director



Tom Holmes talks to David Marshall, Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour and Director of PG Programmes at the University of Edinburgh Business School.

David’s primary research interests include research on food access and availability; consumer food choice and eating rituals; and children’s discretionary consumption in relation to food advertising and marketing.


Creativebrief: David, as Professor of Marketing and Consumer Behaviour what is your primary focus?

David Marshall : My primary focus at the University of Edinburgh Business School is on research, that’s why I became an academic. As Director of Postgraduate Programmes I oversee 11 taught postgraduate  programmes from our flagship MBA to a suite of specialised Masters that offer postgraduate education in various aspects of Business. Each of the programmes has an academic Programme Director and we have just under 500 postgraduate students with a further 120 students doing PhD’s. Applications are up and competition for places is high with acceptance ratios of 12:1 on our postgraduate programmes and 15:1 on our undergraduate programmes.

Creativebrief: What’s the vision behind University of Edinburgh Business School?

David Marshall : In short, we aim to be one of the top UK business schools and a leading European school with an international reputation for research and teaching that produces new knowledge and competent socially responsible graduates that help organizations address the challenges they face.

Creativebrief: What’s so great about studying marketing at the University of Edinburgh Business School?

David Marshall : The University of Edinburgh is ranked 21st in the world (QS World University Rankings), 6th in Europe and 5th  in the UK and the first business degree, a Bachelor of Commerce, our B.Comm, was launched at the University of Edinburgh back in 1918. The University of Edinburgh Business School, rebranded from the School of Management and Economics, has built a strong reputation at both undergraduate and postgraduate level and continues to consolidate its position in a highly competitive market. Nestled in this great Capital city students have access to an international staff and student cohort that share a passion for research and learning. In August 2010 the Business School relocated to new facilities at 29 Buccleuch Place, Edinburgh EH8 9JS (click on the link for a virtual tour)

Our relatively recent MSc Marketing and MSc Marketing and Business AnalysisProgrammes, now in their third year, currently have 60 students from across 24 countries. Maintaining diversity is an important part of what we do and with the ‘Edinburgh experience’ we offer more of a ‘boutique style’ learning environment with class sizes that allow interaction between marketing staff and students. At undergraduate level marketing remains one of the most popular courses and forms a central component of the Business degree.

Creativebrief: Why is marketing so important?

David Marshall : Marketing plays an important role in any business, from large multinationals to the sole trader, by linking buyers and sellers: it is about connecting with customers. While it is does not always get the recognition it deserves at board level the appointment of Chief Marketing Officers and Chief Cultural Officers is encouraging. But we also need to think about what marketing is (private or public/profit or nonprofit/transaction or relationship) and what it should be (societal? sustainable?). The explosion of digital marketing and its impact on consumer engagement, purchase decisions, and customer management has created a whole new area of specialisation and opportunity for modern marketers. As academics we are constantly challenging ideas about what constitutes marketing through more critical accounts. For an introduction have a look at Chris Hackley’s (2009) ‘Marketing: A critical introduction’ or Mark Tadajewski and Douglas Brownlie’s (2008) ‘Critical marketing: Issues in contemporary marketing’ a collection of papers reflecting on the state of the discipline. In the new digital landscape we need to revisit our ideas about marketing and our relationship with the customer.

Creativebrief: How do you think the UK leads the marketing world?

David Marshall : We have some fantastic marketing practitioners and academics in the UK just look at the campaigns coming out from British agencies such as the now classic Cadbury’s ‘Gorilla’ ad, or the John Lewis Christmas campaigns, or the new Guinness ‘Cloud’ campaign. But it is not just about awards, we have some innovative marketing from companies like Innocent drinks that combine fun with health and a social message. I think our ability to engage in debate, think critically, celebrate our success and laugh at ourselves, brings with it a healthy view on the world. Come along to one of the Ogilvy Debates at the EIMF; look at the opening and closing ceremonies at the Olympic; or sneak a peek at the Leith Agency’s recent Irn Bru campaign.

Creativebrief: Which brands do you most admire and why?

David Marshall :  I have to teach my students about world class brands and what Apple has done is amazing in terms of their ability to combine design and functionality – their products look and feel good. They truly understand and drive the sector forward and as Charles Caleb Colton once said ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.’ Although the late Steve Jobs had an interesting take on marketing. John Lewis, whose Marketing Director Craig Inglis featured in last month’s Market Leader, has captured the emotional side of marketing in promoting the John Lewis brand and remaining true to their business ideals of ‘never knowingly undersold’. Dove helped change the way in which we think about ideas of beauty by engaging in a bold campaign that aspires towards’ real’ beauty and Movember  has raised money and awareness of prostate cancer with some really innovative marketing. After this great summer of sport who cannot fail to be impressed by the marketing around the GB and NI Olympics, or Wimbledon. I think the feel good factor and the way in which it brought people together was fantastic. I was lucky enough to get to the Olympics football quarter finals at Old Trafford and experience first-hand the enthusiasm of the volunteers that captured the essence of the Olympic spirit. Perhaps the most exciting part was watching Sir Chris Hoy make Olympic history and watching the impact latterly on UK public interest in cycling. There is a lot of excitement building around the 2014 Commonwealth Games and the marketingaround the event. Staying close to home Scotch whisky, beef, lamb, and salmon are all well-known and within these categories there is a wealth of great brands.

Creativebrief: What issues are confronting the marketing industry are you most concerned about?

David Marshall : The main challenge is undoubtedly in trying to understand the impact that the internet and digital is having on how we execute our marketing. There is a lot of interest in social media and mobile,  and a lot of valuable data, but do we really understand what consumers are doing in this new environment and how they are relate to brands in the digital age? I genuinely think industry is ahead on this one and moving fast but many organisations are finding their way and we need to step back and look at the broader picture and think about how this impacts on traditional ideas about marketing. The rush to digital is fascinating but there are interesting challenges around measuring effectiveness and important issues around consumer protection.

Creativebrief: What other marketing academics, in the UK and internationally, do you particularly admire?

David Marshall : Again there is a wealth of academic marketing talent in the UK, too many people to mention, but a fellow Ulsterman, Professor Stephen Brown, University of Ulster, has been instrumental in getting us to think critically about marketing. Whether you agree with his postmodern tomes or his passion for literary criticism he continually challenges exiting dogma and ideas within the field here and across the pond (and he has had a few run in’s with some of the Marketing greats, have a look at his website). What’s more he is a fantastic presenter if you ever get the chance to see him speak.


John Dawson, now emeritus Professor at the University of Edinburgh is a leading authority on retail marketing and Stephanie O’Donohoe at University of Edinburgh has undertaken some pioneering work on theories and practice of advertising. Other leading UK academics include  Margaret Hogg at University of Lancaster, Pauline MacLaren at Royal Holloway, and Richard Elliot at Bath.

Internationally  Bernard Cova, Soren Askegaard, Sid Levy, Morris Holbrook, Russ Belk, Rob Kozinets and Jonathan Schroeder all continue to challenge the way in which we think about consumers and Craig Thompson and Eric Arnould have started an important discourse around Consumer Culture Theory.

In my own area of research I have admired the work of social anthropologist Mary Douglas, and sociologists Ann Murcott and Alan Warde on food consumption and Stephen Kline, Dan Cook, David Buckingham and Agnes Nairn on children as consumers.

Creativebrief: What are your top five recommended books on marketing and why?

David Marshall : This is a difficult one so I will restrict it to what I have been looking at recently and confine it, loosely, to marketing. I bought Mark Earl’s ‘Herd: how to change mass behaviour by harnessing our true nature’ after he spoke at the EIMF in Edinburgh this year and like his refreshing take on social influence. Paco Underhill’s ‘ What we buy:the science of shopping’ is a practical and easy to read account of consumer culture with a retail focus, although more social than science; Stephen Brown’s, ‘Free gift inside: forget the customer’ is an interesting challenge to existing ideas about marketing; I am reading Grant McCracken’s ‘Culturmania’ at the minute and perhaps one of my favorites, more consumption that marketing, is Jukka Gronow’s ‘Caviar with Champagne: Common luxury and the ideals of the good life in Stalin’s Russia’.

Creativebrief: Can you give me examples of leading marketers from amongst your alumni?

David Marshall : Our marketing masters degrees are only three years old but marketing alumni among our MBA include Karen Hayhow (nee Mackie) (Marketing Director) and Matlin Mackie (MD), part of the Mackie family that have established strong ice cream and crisp brands in two very competitive markets; Simon Lyons Aggreko, is Global Director of Marketing; Birna Einarsdottir, currently CEO of Islandsbanki, was Director of Marketing responsible for the rebranding to Glitnir and a subsequent rebranding of the bank following the financial crisis; Karen Crowley is Heineken Marketing Services Controller. Of our recent MSc graduates Guillaume Golsong is i-Pad Product manager for Apple EMEIA regions based in London and Tim Gallant is working with advertising agency Whitespace in Edinburgh. These are just a few of the students we expect to see more of in the future. Among our Business Studies undergraduates we have Scott Gallagher, formerly at Sky and now the Aston Group, Gregor Lawson, formerly P&G has been busy building his Morphsuits brand and one of our current undergraduates, Chrissie Brown, won this year’s Marketing Society Star Student Apprentice programme.

Creativebrief: What are your thoughts about the Edinburgh International Marketing Festival?

David Marshall : This is a fantastic opportunity to bring together leading marketers at the world’s foremost arts festival. The quality of the sessions and the networking opportunities are excellent and The University of Edinburgh Business School was pleased to be involved this year. Hosting of the ‘Ogilvy debate’ and the ‘The best ideas in the world’ as part of AMPLIFY at this year’s Edinburgh International Marketing Festival brought around 300 marketers into our new building.

Creativebrief: Do you think EIMF can help to raise the profile of the marketing industry on an international platform?

David Marshall : Yes. Initiatives such as ‘Culture and Creativity’, looking at building the reputation of countries and cities, with insights from Tim Broadbent on cross cultural differences opened up a lively debate and raised some interesting issues around creativity. The Cutty Sark ‘The best ideas in the world’ session focused on great marketing campaigns from a range of international markets.

Creativebrief: The last 5 years has seen dramatic growth and change for the digital sector. What do you think the future offers?

David Marshall : I think the major challenge lies in trying to ascertain where traditional and new media fit in this new marketing landscape and in understanding how customers and consumers are using social media. We need to know more about the commercial value of engaging with consumers in this rapidly evolving sector and how to connect in a meaningful way with consumers rather than simply seeing this as just another communication platform.

Creativebrief: What are your particular research interests?

David Marshall : My main research interests are in the area of consumption, what people buy, why they buy, and how they use goods and services. Most of my research has focused on food, health and young consumers. I have been lucky to work alongside sensory scientists, sociologists, nutritionists, anthropologists and  historians on various projects looking at everything from why consumers do or don’t eat fish, drink beer, eat healthier food, to issues around access to healthy food, social aspects of eating, and understanding  children as consumers. More recently we have been looking at how families have been represented in popular media over the last sixty years – Discursive Families Network

Creativebrief: What research outputs are you most proud of and why?

David Marshall : My edited books ‘Understanding Children as Consumers’ Sage 2010 and ‘Food Choice and the Consumer’ Blackie Academic and Professional 2005 are probably the most rewarding outputs simply because they provided me an opportunity to work with some great academics and to learn from them in the process. My paper on eating occasions, Marshall. D. Food as Ritual, Routine or Convention? Culture, Markets and Consumption, 8, 1, 2005, 69-85. represents the  culmination of a period of work around meals and social aspects of eating that has informed a lot of my research and thinking since then in trying to understand food choice.

Creativebrief: What major new initiatives has the University of Edinburgh Business School got planned?

David Marshall : We have a strong portfolio of postgraduate programmes and an excellent undergraduate offering but are looking to further develop this.  Building on the success of our  MSc Marketing and Business Analysis which looks at how marketing can utilize and analyses large data set we are looking at other opportunities in the business and technology area  and have some joint teaching and research initiatives planned with Informatics.  Sustainability is the focus of several of our research and teaching activities and another area that offers opportunities. All this  requires us to invest in Faculty and recruit the best people to deliver what we have to offer. We have just completed a range of appointments that will allow us to pursue some of these areas. We continue to build our Business School brand internationally, attracting students from over 70 different countries, undertaking student exchanges and building on establishing research contacts and our reputation.