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Mass Marketing


Mass marketing is a marketing approach in which the marketer addresses all segments of the market as though they are the same. The approach results in a single marketing plan with the same mix of product, price, promotion, and place strategies for the entire market.

The appeal of mass marketing is in the potential for higher total profits. Companies that employ the system expect the larger profit to result from (1) expanded volume through lower prices and (2) reduced costs through economies of scale made possible by the increased volume. In order for the system to work, however, certain conditions must exist. One is that the product must have broad appeal and a few features that distinguish it from competing products. Another is that it must lend itself to mass production. In addition, the opportunity must exist, and the marketer must have the ability to communicate and distribute to the aggregate market.


Mass marketing first emerged as a workable strategy in the 1880s. Prior to that time, local markets in the United States were geographically isolated, few products had brand recognition beyond their local area, and continuous process technology had not yet come into its own. Profits in the fragmented markets were based on a low volume/high price strategy.

Between 1880 and 1890, several things occurred that eliminated the barriers and enhanced the appeal of mass marketing. The railroad and telegraph systems were completed, thus providing the potential for nationwide distribution and communication. Mass-production techniques and equipment were refined and adapted to a variety of products. Additionally, the population was growing rapidly, the country was recovering from the Civil War, and the largest depression in U.S. history until that time was ending.

These favorable circumstances by themselves did not create mass marketing. Entrepreneurial vision, drive, organization, and resources had to be added to implement the strategy. From 1880 to 1920, early innovators in many different industries stepped forward to seize the opportunity. Although the total number was relatively smallone or a few per industrythe impact on the U.S. economy was enormous. Many of these pioneering marketers built national reputations for their brands and companies that continued into the early twenty-first century.

Two of the most widely recognized examples are Ford and Coca-Cola. Henry Ford applied the concept in the automobile industry. His Model T was conceived and marketed as a "universal" car that would meet the needs of all buyers. By adopting mass-production techniques and eliminating optional features, he was able to reduce costs and sell his product at an affordable price. The combination catapulted the Model T to the top of the market. Asa Candler was equally successful at using mass marketing in the soft-drink industry. Like Ford, he also viewed his product as being the only one that consumers needed. His initial mass-marketing efforts focused on an extensive national advertising campaign. As product recognition grew, he established a network of bottling operations throughout the county to facilitate sales and distribution. No product in history has matched Coca-Cola's total sales.

Other mass marketers of this era achieved success by focusing on one aspect of the approach. Manufacturers such as Quaker Oats, Proctor and Gamble, and Eastman Kodak used refined mass-production techniques to establish consistent product quality. Still other manufacturers, such as Singer Sewing Machine, developed integrated distribution systems to ensure reliable delivery to the market.

In general merchandise retailing, Sears and Montgomery Ward developed a mass-marketing niche through mail order. Grocery retailer A&P, on the other hand, established its mass market through private branding and systematic operation of multiple stores.

Mass marketers continued their domination in major industries well into the 1960s. Many of them maintained essentially the same mix, while others expanded their use of the strategy. Sears and Montgomery Ward, for example, added store retailing in the 1920s. In the 1930s, super-markets appeared with a different emphasis than previous grocery retailersnational brands. Over the next several decades, large discount stores came into prominence with a format similar to the supermarkets.


The successes of mass marketers led to the appearance of an alternate approach to marketing. Potential competitors wanting a share of the large market had two options. One was to replicate the organization, promotion, and distribution systems of the company that had created the mass market. The other was to go after a part of the market that had unique needs by developing products specifically for them. For nearly all of the challengers, building an operation to parallel that of an entrenched industry giant was not profitable or realistic. As a result, most of them gravitated to the more attractive market-segmentation approach. (Figure 1 shows the different demand curves for mass marketing and market segmentation.)

General Motors used market segmentation as early as the 1920s when it produced different models for different groups of customers to compete with Ford. Pepsi made a series of attempts, beginning in the 1930s, to crack into Coca-Cola's market share through changes in product and targeted promotion strategy. In the 1940s, television provided a powerful tool for both new and old companies to reach segmented markets. By the 1960s, market segmentation had surpassed mass marketing as the primary approach.


In spite of the shift to market segmentation, mass marketing continues to be used in many situations and has potential for others. Products with broad appeal and few distinguishing characteristics, such as household cleaners, potato chips, and pain relievers, lend themselves to mass marketing just as they always have. At the same time, businesses that use mass marketing for their goods and services continue to look for ways to enlarge their markets by designing different appeals for noncustomers. Chewing gum, for example, is presented as an alternative to smoking. Utilities and credit cards offer special rates to entice potential high-volume customers, while discount retailers, such as Wal-Mart, match their mix of mass-marketed products to local customer bases.

Any product that has mass-marketable attributes will likely be marketed by some form of the approach. In addition, the Internet provides a new medium for mass-marketing initiatives, and newly opened international markets offer a possible arena for mass-marketing opportunities.

see also Market Segmentation ; Marketing


Gardner, Dana (1998, June). E-Mail Status Is Elevated as Mass Marketing Tool. InfoWorld, 1, 84.

Lakelin, Philip (1999, April). Mass Marketing the Internet. Telecommunications (International Edition), 59-62.

Tedlow, Richard S. (1996). New and Improved: The Story of Mass Marketing in America. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Tedlow, Richard S. (1997, Fall). The Beginning of Mass Marketing in America: George Eastman and Photography as a Case Study. Journal of Macromarketing, 67-81.

Earl C. Meyer

Lori A. Dailey

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