Ain’t nothing but trading

  • by helga
  • 12/10/2013
Back to acrylic painting – my naive depiction of Santorini.

While exploring Santorini’s cultural riches last month, I became acquainted with the traditional, islander ways of wine-making, narrated in neat typewritten notes captioning the exhibits at Koutsoyannopoulos’ wine museum. Annoyingly, as I was strolling down the museum, I kept coming across the word ‘MARKETING’ written over and over again, in a fashion that was not supportive of my favourite ways of holidaymaking (i.e. marketing-free).

The English translation in the museum captions went something like this:

Mr Yannis Koutsoyannoupoulos and his brother Kostas (or other suitably common Greek name) arrived at the beautiful island of Santorini in 1660 (by mistake it seems) and found that the island was excellent for the MARKETING of wine (…) and they found so many good MARKETING opportunities that they ended up staying and developing unique techniques and varieties (…) which they went onto promoting through international MARKETING strategies (…) and Odessa, their main MARKETING partner, supplied them in turn with oak for the wine barrels.

At this point, I was not really thinking that Mr Koutsoyannonninoupopoulos had been a pioneer in international marketing strategy and written papers on the topic, but rather that ‘marketing’ was the English translation for a much more pragmatic and ancient Greek concept; half of our ‘scientific’ words originate either in Greek or Latin anyway, so this wasn’t exactly a surprise.

I proceeded to ask other kind museum onlookers, more proficient in the intricacies of the Greek language than myself, and learned that the word ‘marketing’ is totally alien to Greek. The original Greek word in the captions had been mistranslated and meant more like ‘trading’ than marketing.  ‘Trading’?

With the premise that MARKETING may equal trading, I took out my mobile phone and googled the etymology of the word.

According to, the verbal noun ‘marketing’ first appeared in 1560 (a hundred years before Mr Koutsoaynnoupoulos arrived at Santorini) and stood for ‘buying and selling’ – indeed very much like trading.  Looking up earlier than the XVI century, as early as the XII century, we find the root word ‘market’ which means ‘a meeting at a fixed time for buying and selling livestock and provisions’, from the old French ‘marchiet’, Modern French marché, which in turn comes from the Latin mercatus ‘trading, buying and selling’ (trading again), from the root merk, possibly Etruscan, referring to various aspects of economics:

merk > mercatus > marchiet > market > marketing

Thus the etymology of the word seems to indicate that marketing is grounded in the ancient practice of trading, and in basic economics. Or as Wikipedia puts it (I’m afraid this post is not going much beyond Wikipedia-type sources), ‘from a societal point of view, marketing is the link between a society’s material requirements and its economic patterns of response.’ Ah, that sounds very well put indeed.

I wonder if adding management and organisational theory so prominently into the mix did marketing any favours in the last hundred years?

If we clean out all the clutter – the four Ps, the marketing mix, management best practice, the metrics – we’re left with this wonderfully pure concept of ‘trading’. We can trade services and products for a generic currency which people can use to trade products and services with other people (this is the most common type of commerce); we can trade commodities directly for other commodities; we can trade affection to get affection back (doesn’t always work very well, but there are strategies to improve this too); we can trade years of living for an indulgent lifestyle; we can trade our own mother for the kingdom (as D. Afonso Henriques, first king of Portugal).

In all these cases, a marketing specialist should be able to influence and improve the process and/or the outcome, ensuring that a society’s ‘economics patterns of response’ fit its ‘material requirements’. Ain’t nothing but trading, yet trading well, and keeping a balanced economic system, is not an easy task at all.

After the museum came the wine-tasting, and I was blissfully back into my favourite type of holidays.

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