Is Marketing a Science?


Without any doubt, controversy about ‘is marketing a science’ is one of the major topics that have been discussed within academicians in marketing literature. Since almost 65 years, debate about that subject has been going on and it seems it will not end forever. Main reason of the endless discussions about that subject is the controversies about the meaning, origin and domain of ‘science’. Since there are number of different views about ‘what is science’, naturally ‘is marketing a science’ is a controversial subject among marketing thinkers. This study will try to answer the holly question which is ‘is marketing a science’ by analyzing the meaning of science, the scope of marketing and different ideas that have been put through to answer the same question.

  1. Introduction

According to Hunt (1976a), discussions about ‘is marketing a science’ date back to an early journal ‘the development of a science of marketing’ that had been written by Converse in 1945. In addition to this article, most of other academicians thought and asserted their ideas about the same subject (Bartels, 1951; Baumol, 1957; Buzzell, 1963; Hutchinson, 1952; Taylor, 1965). As Anderson told during these discussions; ‘much heat has been generated, but relatively little light has been shed on the question of marketing scientific credentials’ (Anderson, 1983, p.18).

Why there is still not a worldwide view about if marketing is a science or not although there have been number of discussions about that subject? According to this study; blurriness on the criteria of being science is the main reason which leads different views about marketing is a science concept. In other words, since there are not generally accepted criteria which separate science from pseudoscience, ‘is marketing a science’ question can only be answered by determining some concepts as the criteria of being science. That’s because in order to classify a thing as a science, requirements and criteria of being a science should be determined. Because of that reason most of marketing thinkers who have attempted to answer that question have looked to the philosophy of science for guidance (Cox et al., 1964; Halbert, 1965; Howard and Sheth, 1969; Hunt 1976b, 1983; Sheth 1967,1972; Zaltman et al., 1973).

  1. Aim and Methodology of The Study

The purpose of this study is to answer the controversial question – is marketing a science? – in a most appropriate way. In order to answer this question, study will firstly attempt to determine the most acceptable criteria for categorizing a discipline as a science. While determining the most acceptable scientific criteria, study will put forward some of the main controversies about ‘being science or not’ which had been asserted by philosophers in philosophy of science literature. In other words, study will analyze the nature of science by dealing with different approaches within philosophy of science literature in order to present different ideas about the meaning of science and proper criteria for being science. After determining the proper criteria for being science, study will analyze the scope, domain and main characteristics of marketing in order to test this discipline if it is a science or not. At this point, study will also deal with the main debates that have been taken place about the same subject (is marketing a science?). Finally, after analyzing these debates, study will come to a conclusion if marketing is a science or not.

  1. The Nature and Demarcation of Science

The question of whether marketing is a science cannot be adequately answered without a clear understanding of basic nature of science (Hunt 1976a). In order to answer the question whether marketing is a science or not, firstly, ‘what is science?’ should be defined and understood. That is possible by defining the basic characteristics and fundamental features of science. By doing so; science and non-science can be demarcated and question dealing with marketing is a science, an art or something else can be answered adequately.

  • The Nature and Demarcation of Science in Philosophy of Science’s Literature

There have been different thoughts about definition and features of science since Plato. Different schools of thoughts are located in philosophy of science’s literature and they had defined science differently.

Popper deal with the questions like when a theory should be ranked as scientific and whether there is a criterion for the scientific character or status of a theory (Popper 1963). By dealing with these questions, he discussed the method of science (if there is any). Popper’s aim was to differentiate the concepts of science and pseudo-science. Popper arrived at a conclusion that ‘criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability’ (Popper 1963). He thought that a theory should contain risky predictions that can be tested and falsifiable in order to count this theory as scientific. Under this explanation he told that Astrology, Marxist theory of history, Adler’s and Freud’s theories are not meeting the criteria of being scientific since all of these theories are not in a testable form where the Einstein’s theory can be counted as scientific because of its risky predictions that can be testable and falsifiable. Finally, Popper told that falsifiability is not related with meaningfulness – significance or truth, it is about being capable of conflicting with possible and observations.

Kuhn (1970) asserted his ideas about demarcation of science and criticized some of Karl Popper claims about the same subject. Kuhn criticized Popper’s ideas related to this subject because according to Kuhn; Popper is trying to find the demarcation criterion of science in extraordinary science field by claiming that growth in science is only possible when an accepted theory is replaced by a better one (Popper 1963). And this claim showed that targeted field of Popper is extraordinary research field since there are very few examples of theory replacements in the history of science according to Kuhn. Another different belief between Popper and Kuhn that was mentioned by Kuhn in his article is; according to Popper: ‘testing’ is the only process to distinguish scientific and non-scientific, but according to Kuhn: ‘puzzle-solving tradition’ is essential. By declaring puzzle-solving tradition Kuhn meant a theory should contain puzzles to be evaluated as scientific and he gave the example of astronomer and astrologer; according to Kuhn if an astronomer failed in his/her theory, different theoretical and mathematical puzzles can be solved. For instance, data that are used in testing the theory can be checked, or re-examined, or new measurements can be made and etc… However when an astrologer is the issue; if he/she failed in his/her theory there are no such puzzles to solve. Finally, Kuhn claimed that although he agreed with Popper about the outcome of the line of science demarcation, he disagreed about the process and claimed that Popper is missing a point by only dealing with the ‘testing’ process and ignoring the need of puzzle-solving tradition.

Lakatos (1973) deal with the demarcation between science and pseudo science and started his ideas by pointing out that being scientific or pseudoscientific is independent of being believable or unbelievable, also it has nothing to do with the human mind. Lakatos didn’t agree with Popper’s falsifiability criteria and claimed that scientists do not give up easily their theories and try to rescue their theories when there is a contradiction between the facts and their theories. Lakatos pointed out that; Kuhn (1970) considered Popper’s falsifiability (1963) a bit naive, but Lakatos also considered Kuhn’s approach as not eligible to solve the conflicts of the science demarcation. In response to both Popper’s and Kuhn’s approaches; Lakatos put forward his own claims; first of all he claimed that there are different ‘research programmes each with a characteristic hard core stubbornly defended, each with its more flexible protective belt and each with its elaborate problem-solving machinery (Lakatos 1973).’ He gave Newton’s theory of gravitation and Marxism as examples of different research programmes and compared these 2 theories in order to distinguish a progressive (scientific) programme and degenerating (pseudoscientific) programme. He evaluated Newton’s theory as a progressive programme because according to Lakatos, this theory lead discovering ‘novel facts’ which has not been discovered until that day. In contrast, he evaluated Marxism as a degenerating programme because according to Lakatos this theory didn’t discover novel facts but in this programme ‘theories are fabricated only in order to accommodate known facts (Lakatos 1973).’ As a conclusion, Lakatos claimed that scientific revolutions occur when progressive research programmes replace degenerating research programmes.

  • The Nature and Demarcation of Science in Marketing’s Literature

Campell (1952) defined science as “a body of useful and practical knowledge and a method of obtaining it” and also added that “science is a pure intellectual activity”. Buzzell defined science as ‘… a classified and systematized body of knowledge…organised around one or more central theories and a number of general principles…usually expressed in quantitative terms…knowledge which permits the prediction and, under some circumstances, the control of future events’ (Buzzell, 1963 p. 33). Hunt (1983) criticized Buzell’s features of science, and asserted that Buzzell’s definition is too restrictive. Hunt believed that, the aim of science is to develop laws and theories to understand, explain, predict and control phenomena. According to him;

  • Every science should have a distinct subject matter.
  • This subject matter should have underlying uniformities.
  • Every science should employ ‘scientific method’

When all of the definitions and thoughts about demarcation of science that are located in both philosophy of science’s literature and marketing’s literature are analyzed; it can be told that in order to classify a discipline or a theory as scientific following concepts are required;

  • A falsifiable and distinct subject
  • Puzzle-solving and progressive scientific method
  1. The Nature and Scope of Marketing

Marketing is in everywhere everytime. Human beings are being affected consciously or unconsiciously from marketing in their daily lifes. When they walk on the street, when they eat in a restaurant, when they open TV in their homes, they are all being bombarded by marketing massages.

Definition of marketing has been evolving until today like marketing itself. Since 1935 American Marketing Association (AMA) has launched 4 different definitions of marketing (AMA definition is worldwide accepted definition that is used in books, articles and other publishings.)

 AMA definition in 1935

‘Marketing is the performance of business activities that direct the flow of goods and services from producers to consumers.’

 AMA definition in 1985

‘Marketing is the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational objectives.’

 AMA definition in 2004

‘Marketing is an organizational function and a set of processes for creating, communicating, and delivering value to customers and for managing customer relationships in ways that benefit the organization and its stakeholders.’

AMA definition in 2007

‘Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.’

According to these definitions, it can be told that; nature and scope of marketing has been broadened day by day.

  • In the first definition that was made in 1935, marketing was defined as just an exchange process between buyer and seller.
  • Definition that was made in 1985 divided buyer into 2 as organizational and individual, also mentioned about different tools like concept, price, promotion and distribution that seller can use for marketing its goods and services. (These 4 fundamental concepts of marketing were firstly being asserted by McCarthy in 1960 under the name of ‘Marketing 4P’s and became one of the most cited thought regarding to scope of marketing)
  • In 2004 AMA mentioned about marketing as a mutual benefit process between marketer and customer that starts by creating a value and ends with delivering this value to the customers.
  • Lastly in the latest definition, AMA broadened the concept of marketing and defined marketing as a process that affected the society as a whole.

Despite AMA definitions, different definitions were made by marketers according to different approaches;

Economics approach: ‘Marketing embraces all the business activities involved in getting commodities of all kinds, including services, from the hands of producers and manufacturers into the hands of the final consumers. All the business steps which goods progress on their way to final consumption is the concern of marketing’ (McNair et al. 1975).

Consumer’s (or buyer’s) approach: ‘That process through which a business enterprise, institution, or organization 1. selects target customers or constituents, 2. assesses the needs or wants of such target customers, and 3. manages its resources to satisfy those customer needs or wants’ (Star et al. 1977)

Societal approach: ‘Marketing is the delivery of a standard of living to society.’ (Mazur 1947)

Managerial approach: ‘Marketing is the combination of activities designed to produce profit through ascertaining, creating, stimulating, and satisfying the needs and/or wants of a selected segment of the market.’ (Eldridge 1970)

According to all these definitions, Cooke et al. (1992) presented ‘key words’ of different approaches;

Economics approach Consumer’s (or buyer’s) approach Societal approach Managerial approach
goods/services consumer society anticipate (demand)
transfer of ownership meet – fulfil – satisfy consumption – relationship business – corporation – organisation
storage product (goods and services) matching goods – services
flow of goods/services wants standard of living objectives of organisations
distribution/transport determine – assess needs exchange product development – design
functions needs social process stimulate (demand)
target customers assess – determine
create (demand)
meet – fulfil
target (customers)


If all these different definitions from different perspectives are analyzed;

  • Economics approach mentions about the core subject of marketing which is ‘exchange’
  • Consumer’s approach is about the needs, wants, perceptions, attitudes and other related psychological factors about human beings.
  • Societal approach deals with relationships of human beings with each other and with the society.
  • Managerial approach concentrates the process of constructing a marketing plan which is supported by qualitative and quantitative research methods. These research methods are known as marketing research which is used by companies to study consumers’ behaviors -that was mentioned in consumer’s approach- and other companies. Major aim of marketing research is to link the buyer and seller with the right product or service. Marketing research can be in both qualitative and quantitative form. Qualitative methods mostly consist of depth interviews and focus groups, quantitative methods mostly consist of observational research, experimentation and survey research (Kanuk and Schiffman, 2010)

Thus far, nature of science with criteria of being scientific and nature of marketing with its scope have been analyzed. To sum up; as can be seen from the following figures, science requires a falsifiable distinct subject (Popper 1963; Hunt 1983) and a puzzle solving progressive scientific method (Kuhn, 1970; Lakatos, 1973). When marketing discipline is analyzed exchange process can be pointed out as the distinct subject and marketing process can be evaluated as scientific when qualitative and quantitative methods that are used in determining and implementing marketing strategies are taken into account. Moreover, when economics, societal, managerial and consumer’s approaches are considered, marketing discipline also involves some other social sciences like business administration, sociology, psychology, anthropology and economy. Backing up with other social sciences strengthens scientific side of marketing.

is marketing a science



  1. Philosophy of Science in Marketing Literature – The Debates

Up until know, marketing literature have hosted number of debates regarding with the question whether marketing is a science or not. Marketing academicians have chosen different guiding epistemological and ontological philosophies while they were asserting their ideas about the theoretical foundations of marketing. Different academicians reached the same answer that marketing is a science or marketing is not a science by using different approaches, in other words, although they reached the same destination they had used different vehicles and different routes. When the literature is reviewed; from all of different thoughts about philosophical foundation of marketing science, a debate between two leading philosophical approaches came forward: logical empiricism and relativism.

Logical empiricism was firstly mentioned by Hunt (1983) and for most of academicians it is still the leading philosophical paradigm that dominates academic marketing inquiry.

During 1920s positivism emerged as a philosophy of science in the form of logical positivism (Anderson, 1983). Moritz Schlick led the logical positivism stream (established by a ‘Vienna Circle’ – a group of scientists and philosophers-) and evaluated this approach as the central doctrine for Wittgenstein’s verification theory of meaning (Brown, 1977; Howard and Sheth, 1969; Passmore, 1967). According to verification theory, scientific and non-scientific statements can be differentiated if these statements can be empirically verified or not. Logical positivists believed that universal scientific propositions are true whether they have been verified by empirical tests, since Hume’s ‘problem of induction’ claims that; no finite number of empirical tests can ever guarantee the truth of universal statements (Anderson, 1983; Black, 1967; Brown, 1977; Chalmers, 1976; Hume, 1911). This difficulty was interpreted by Hempel (1965) as ‘inductive inference can never be justified on purely logical grounds’ (Anderson, 1983)

Because of these difficulties, a new version of positivism that is known as ‘logical empiricism’ was being developed by Carnap (1936, 1937). This new type of positivism became the ‘received view’ in philosophy odf science for 20 years (Suppe, 1974) and it is still dominated the debates about scientific method in marketing (Hunt, 1973). By putting forward logical empiricism; Carnap tried to replace the concept of verification with confirmation because he believed that no theory can ever be ‘verified’ but they all can be ‘confirmed’ by a number of empirical tests. Figure 2 represents logical empiricist model of scientific method (Zaltman et al., 1973)

Logical Empiricist Model of Scientific Method

According to Anderson, (1983, p. 19), as it is illustrated in the figure; according to logical empiricists, ‘scientific process begins with the untainted observation of reality and this provides the researcher with his/her image of real world structure from which he/she cognitively generates an a priori model of the process to be investigated. Hypotheses are derived from the model and are subjected to the empirical tests. If the data are in accord with the hypotheses, a confirming instance has been identified. Thus, science progress through the accumulation of multiple confirming instances obtained under a wide variety of circumstances and conditions’ and he added that statistical inductive method is used by logical empiricists and by this method science begins with observation and moves along with further observations that are applied for justifying its theories by the help of probabilistic supports.

In his article Anderson described the logical empirical approach and presented its steps like the figure above. However, Anderson concluded in his article as relativism should be the philosophical ground for marketing science in contrast to positivism and logical empiricism. From that moment, a group of academicians led by Paul Anderson started to argue that marketing theories should be judged by relativistic criteria (Sheth et al., 1988).

According to Anderson (1983) first of all, theory justification that is dependent on positivism cannot be maintained as a viable description and secondly, there is not a consensus on the nature or existence of a unique scientific method and there is not a demarcation between science and pseudo-science. For these reasons, he claimed that; instead of asking what is the ‘correct’ method, methodologies that will convince the marketing community of the validity of a particular theory should be asked. That’s why, he believed that relativistic approach can be the only viable solution to the problem of scientific method because relativism implies that there are few truly universal standards of scientific adequacy and because of that reason different disciplines use different methodologies.

Anderson’s ideas are supported by different academicians. By expanding ideas that were generated by Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend, Peter and Olsen (1983) put forward relativism as the proper philosophical domain of marketing science because of their following claims:

  • There is a interaction between researchers which influences each other
  • Each individual researcher has his/her own beliefs and value
  • Like observational data that are used in research process, subjective interpretations of the researcher also important when conduction a research.

Muncy and Fisk (1987) also asserted that ‘truth’ or ‘evaluation of truth’ can be changed between indivuals or different situations.

When both logical empiricism and relativism are considered, it can be told that;

  • Logical empiricism depends on the scientific method that can be constructed by empirical tests
  • Relativism claims there is not a uniform scientific method that can be accepted by worldwide since there is not a distinct demarcation between science and pseudoscience.

When marketing is evaluated under these 2 philosophical approaches, it can be told that

  • Method of a theory construction in marketing is directly related to the logical empiricism approach and logical empiricists evaluate marketing as a science since they believe that theory construction in marketing fits with their scientific method.
  • Relativists also evaluate that marketing is a science but they disagree about the ‘unique scientific method’ and claim that marketing can be evaluated as a science by depending on more than one method. According to them instead of a distinct method there are proper methodologies.
  1. Conclusion

In this study, nature of and its demarcation criteria, nature of marketing with its scope and different approaches about philosophical foundations of marketing science analyzed in order to answer the question whether marketing is a science or not.

First of all, by reviewing the approaches of different philosophers and marketing thinkers, key concepts that are located in the nature of science are determined. In order to classify a discipline as scientific this discipline should have a falsifiable distinct subject and a puzzle-solving progressive method. That means subject of a discipline should be clear and open to be falsification (falsifiable distinct subject). Also method employed in this discipline should be flexible and subject to number of testing in order to reach the conclusion in other words solve the puzzle (puzzle-solving method) Moreover, method that is used should allow to a moving forward process with continuous developments and findings (progressive method).

Secondly, when nature and scope of marketing is considered according to the requirements of being science which are listed above; such results are determined: exchange that is occurred between buyer and seller can be considered as the distinct subject and this subject is falsifiable. It is falsifiable since exchange concept in marketing is testable, in other words, since market exchange is testable it is falsifiable. Moreover, qualitative and quantitative methods that are used in marketing can be considered both puzzle solving and progressive methods. For example, when a theory is constructed depending on a qualitative or quantitative market research, this theory can be modified until reaching a result that is confirmed worldwide. Also knowledge obtained by different market researches and theories move forward cumulatively. That means nature of marketing meets requirements of being science that is presented in this study as ‘having falsifiable distinct subject and puzzle-solving progressive method’. Moreover, when different approaches like economics, societal, managerial and consumer’s approaches are considered, marketing discipline is also backing up with other social sciences like business administration, sociology, psychology, anthropology and economy. This also strengthens scientific side of marketing.

Thirdly, two of the leading philosophical approaches (logical empiricism and relativism) for marketing science also evaluated marketing as a science. These different approaches disagree about the scientific method, logical empiricist approach claims employing a unique scientific method where relativism claims employing more than one method according to the characteristics of inquiry.

As a conclusion, different thoughts about philosophical foundation of marketing reach the same conclusion by evaluating marketing as science although they use different routes. This study also evaluates marketing as a science in both logical empiricist and relativist approach. According to the observation made through nature of science and marketing, it can be told that marketing is a social science which deals with the exchange that occurs between buyer and seller by employing puzzle solving progressive qualitative and quantitative methods. It is also interrelated with other social sciences. All in a word, whether in logical empiricist approach or relativist approach, marketing is a science.

Author: Z. Eren Kocyigit – 06.02.2011


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