“Studying the past is worthwhile”

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Professor Bálint Nagy, Head of the Department of Marketing has successfully defended his PhD, the interview was conducted on this occasion.


What was the topic of your PhD?

The title of my PhD paper is The Institutionalization of Marketing in Hungary. It is about a special aspect of marketing and institutionalization. I was working on the history of marketing.

Why did you choose this topic?

Because I did not want to be engaged in a very specialized marketing topic. I have been working in marketing for almost 25 years. Now I am more interested in the social aspects of marketing than pure marketing techniques or tools. Today I care more about the society, the psychology of marketing and what impact marketing has in society and in the world that surrounds us.

At which university did you complete your PhD?

In fact, for the reasons above, I consulted with the Vice Dean of Eötvös Loránd University, Faculty of Humanities, Doctorate School of History, Gábor Sonkoly and he raised the idea to focus on the history of marketing and write my PhD at ELTE. When Atelier, which is the intellectual leader of this Doctorate School, was founded, it was based on a strong connection with École de Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales de Paris, and hence the French name at ELTE. I have my BA and MA from ELTE Faculty of Law and conducted my earlier university studies at ELTE, so it was logical to do my PhD at the same university.

What is the time span of your research?

It took two years to find the special aspect of my paper, which is institutionalization, to find its focus and the time I cover and to make it absolutely acceptable for historians as well. I took an objective approach and examined forms of institutions like the professional associations of marketing, the education system, books on marketing, marketing organizations within companies and how all these are incorporated into the society. Then in a small in-house conference the famous historian, Professor György Granasztói said that my topic is fine but still too wide and must be narrowed both geographically, historically and timewise. He suggested to focus on Hungary around 1968, the era of the new economic system. The time-span bridges the 1960s, when marketing actually began in Hungary, until 2000. So I have two main focus points, 1968 and the political changes in 1989.

Reklámélet borító 1938

An edition of the Hungarian professional magazin „The World of Advertising” from 1935 being launched in 1925!

What happened in 1968?

It was the time when the so called New Economic Mechanism was introduced in Hungary. This was a real turn, nevertheless the term “marketing” was not allowed to be used, not even to be mentioned until the mid 70s. At the beginning of the 1970s, they made huge efforts to find a Hungarian term for “marketing” and ended up with “organizing the market” [piacszervezés]. The first marketing department in Hungary was at Karl Marx University of Economics and was called “Department of Market Organization.” It was also a “linguistic” question: the well-known and respectable Hungarian linguist, László Grétsy for example was absolutely against the use of the non-Hungarian word, “marketing.” ‘We should find a Hungarian word for it’, he said. The reason was that according to politicians marketing did not exist in socialist societies because it was a pure capitalist idea, connected to capital etc. So it was not officially acknowledged as something worthwhile.

Pesti műsor 1960. dec.2-3. p8 boy

 An ad from 1960 promoting ticket home delivery.

Do you think e-ticketing for example and home-delivery of theatre or cinema tickets is something new , that has to do with the internet? Was it just the word, the term that was a problem or the activity of marketing as well?

Although the term was not used, you cannot imagine how professional companies were in doing marketing. They knew how it was done in the world, partly from books and journals, partly as they had connections to the world. They not only introduced big brands like Amor Vermouth, Omnia Coffee or Fabulon body lotion but they did it in an absolutely professional way.

However, I remember that the advertisements were really dumb, like “Buy metal kitchenware from the metal kitchenware shop!”

I am not talking about advertisements only, there were several other elements of marketing. They used very sophisticated marketing techniques, like sampling. They put small Omnia coffee samples under the chairs of Népstadion, the huge football stadium in Budapest. At a certain point of a football match they announced “look under your chair” – and the audience picked a sample of the new product from underneath. Omnia started using air-sealed packaging for example, which was  developed exclusively for them. They also introduced a totally different roasting technique than all the other coffees of the time. So the promotion of goods, and you should not think of advertisements only, was unbelievable. Omnia is just one example but a brilliant one for state-of-the-art branding.

Omnia 1971 003

Can you share the general conclusion of your research and PhD paper?

It is an important message to anybody who studies marketing and business, especially to students, that being aware of what happened in the past is worth it. There is almost nothing new under the sun, and almost everything that we do has already been discovered. Of course techniques have developed a lot, mainly due to the advancement in technology, but if we look back 30-40 years, we can see that many things were already invented, so we do not need to invent these things again. We just need to re-invent them and customize them somewhat to our age and customs.