John F Gaski Ph.D.

The Eclectic Professor

American Public Finally Begins to Appreciate Marketing

Uptick in Attitudes toward Long-Criticized Field

Posted Jan 30, 2012

After years of negative reactions to the way marketing is practiced, overall consumer sentiment toward marketing turned positive for the first time in 2011.  The Notre Dame−Socratic Technologies Index of Consumer Sentiment toward Marketing (ICSM) edged into the positive range at 5.5 on a scale of -200 to +200, this following over 25 years of consistently (but slowly improving) negative ratings.

A long-term study conducted by two University of Notre Dame marketing professors, myself and Mike Etzel, in conjunction with the marketing research firm, Socratic Technologies of San Francisco, examines U.S. consumers' perceptions of product quality, fairness of prices, usefulness of advertising, and retail service.  The research has tracked consumer sentiment toward marketing since 1984, using a 20-item validated questionnaire and data collected by Socratic from a nationwide sample.

As early as the mid-1960s, a customer-oriented approach to marketing has been touted as the path to success by most business consultants, authors, and business educators.  In short, managers were advised that satisfying customers and focusing on their needs would produce positive results for an organization.  However, prior to this project there has been no real effort to systematically examine how consumers feel marketers are treating them.

One might expect that if managers are behaving in a customer-oriented fashion, consumers' perceptions of product value, the fairness of prices, the usefulness of advertising, and the quality of service should individually or collectively receive a positive rating.  However, that has not been the case until now.

Bill MacElroy, President of Socratic, notes a possible link with sentiments toward corporate brands:  "In periods where there have been economic upheavals and corresponding drops in the ICSM, we've seen a correlation with lower overall brand scores.  For example, in 2009, a fairly significant drop in the consumer sentiment scores corresponds to similar drops in 'trust' and 'credibility' scores we measured for many corporate brands in the same period.  We see a similar relationship in the data in the early 1990s, when another economic downturn occurred.  Conversely, we saw an across-the-board improvement in brand scores in 2010 and early 2011, which also tracks nicely with the ICSM data."

Should marketers be satisfied with the performance reflected in the Index or should there be concern that the institution is not viewed more positively?  It is almost certain that negative (or barely positive) perceptions make the task of marketing more difficult.  However, it is unlikely that individual marketers can have a significant impact on overall sentiment.  Therefore, the recommendation that an individual organization should emphasize a customer orientation appears valid as it will position it favorably relative to the general perception.

The entire historical pattern of ICSM as well as  additional information can be obtained from the researchers, Professor Michael Etzel ( or Professor John Gaski (  Complete details and validation results for the scale are presented in Journal of Marketing, July, 1986, pp. 71-81.  A detailed report of earlier results appears in the Journal of Consumer Research, March 2005, pp. 859-867.