Obituary of Dr. Sidney Levy
Dr. Sidney J. Levy, a seminal, globally renowned and award‑winning scholar passed away on March 26, 2018, at the age of 96, after a brief illness. A prolific intellectual pioneer, Dr. Levy’s ideas influenced marketing researchers and executives beginning in the 1940s. His work impacted how we think about marketing’s role in management, how managers develop products and brands, and how they understand their consumers. His work permanently impacted how corporate and academic researchers investigate marketplace issues and puzzles.
Dr. Levy helped shape the definition of marketing with several seminal articles. In “Broadening the Concept of Marketing” (Journal of Marketing, 1969), he challenged the view of marketing as restricted to commercial activities, and redefined the concept of marketing as an all-encompassing phenomenon applicable to a broad range of human organizations and activities. A subsequent article, “Demarketing Yes Demarketing” (Harvard Business Review, 1971), identified situations where the goal of marketing was to reduce rather than increase consumption. Both articles were co-authored by Dr. Philip Kotler, his Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management colleague. More recently, his contributions to consumer research have applied his training to develop a layered analysis which examines consumption from a biological, psychological, sociological, and anthropological perspective.
Dr. Levy was universally renowned as a twentieth century maverick for the development and application of qualitative methods of research in marketing. His early writings on brand image and lifestyle analysis illuminate compelling, contemporary topics such as brand equity, product symbolism, consumer motivation, marketing ethics, focus groups, projective methods, and global marketing. His classic article, “Symbols for Sale” (published in the Harvard Business Review in 1959), was given the American Marketing Association's prestigious Converse Award, which recognizes articles and educators with notable long-term impact in the field. As the keynote speaker at the recent opening of Austria’s Brand Image Institute, a brass band was hired to play a fanfare as he took the stage!
The breadth, longevity, and influence of Sidney Levy's thinking was unique. His stature among his peers, to his embarrassment, verged toward that of a venerated "guru.” He remained, at heart, a modest man from the West Side of Chicago, a son of immigrant parents. Since the 1950s, Levy shared his ideas and observations throughout the world in classrooms, boardrooms, museums, academic symposia and governmental conferences. “From my own observations, academics tend to think of Sid Levy as a professor, and as a consumer behavior theorist. True enough, but relatively few grasp his long and distinguished career in marketing research and consulting or of its relationship to his academic writings” wrote USC marketing Professor Dennis Rook. He was a consultant to the Korean Olympic Committee for the marketing of the 1988 Seoul Games. Many of Levy's articles provide excellent examples of how his mind abstracted from particular commercial needs, to a general theory of the hierarchy of consumption behavior. His theories and their practical applications inform the recurring and often contentious academic debate about the merits of particular versus universal research in marketing.
Dr. Levy also had a profound impact on the field of marketing through his leadership at both Northwestern’ s Kellogg School of Management and the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management. At Kellogg, he served as the director of the Marketing doctoral program during the 1970s and mentored students who went on to prominent positions at schools such as Harvard, NYU, USC, MIT, Vanderbilt, Dartmouth, Columbia, and UCLA, in addition to others at leading foreign universities. He served as chairperson of Kellogg’s Marketing Department from 1980-1992.
Following his “retirement” from Kellogg, he moved to Tucson, becoming a professor, and then the Head of the Marketing Department at the Eller College of Management at the University of Arizona. In addition to serving in a leadership role, Dr. Levy shared his expertise with faculty and students over meals and other informal venues. While at Kellogg, he and other faculty developed a tradition of going on three-mile runs in the sun, rain or snow several times a week. When he first began these runs at the age of 52 it was suggested that a good pace was one at which he could talk normally. Following that guidance, he maintained an ongoing and entertaining intellectual conversation while setting a pace that often left others at a loss for words.
Over the course of his long career, Dr. Levy received numerous awards for contributions to both marketing theory and practice. In 1982, he was inducted as an Association for Consumer Research Fellow, the highest honor accorded to academic consumer researchers and was elected President of this organization in 1991. In 1988, the American Marketing Association awarded him with recognition as a Distinguished Educator. He was the first person to receive the Living Legend of Marketing award in 1997. He received the Converse award in 2000 for outstanding contributions to the science of marketing. In recognition of his part in introducing the role of cultural meaning in consumption behavior, the Consumer Culture Theory (CCT) association created the Sidney J. Levy award in 2008.The award is given annually to the best CCT article published in a major marketing or consumer research journal, based on the author’s doctoral dissertation.
Dr. Levy fulfilled his goal to “to keep reading intently until the last breath.” He was still on the faculty of the University of Arizona at the time of his death, where he maintained an open door policy. He said that “Teaching, studying, writing is my life; students keep me active, thinking, interacting,” and “working with students and colleagues on research, assisting in classes and seminars, attending conferences… I love doing it and see no reason to stop as long as I can continue to do it.” On his 96th birthday he presented his recent work at Kellogg, where he spent 30-years as a Professor. Dr. Levy’s poetry submission for the 2018 CCT meeting was accepted for presentation less than two weeks before his death. The marketing community grieves for the loss of a much-loved elder statesman, but will benefit from his legacy for years to come.
Sidney J. Levy was born in St. Louis on May 29, 1921, to Jacob and Kate Levy, who raised him in Chicago. Soon after graduation from Manley High School, he volunteered to serve in the Air Force. Following his military service, he attended the University of Chicago on the GI Bill, where he earned three degrees, including a doctorate degree from the Committee on Human Development, with a concentration in psychology. Devoted to his family, his wife and children were his greatest treasures. His varied interests informed his work and fueled his creativity. It was a pleasure, a privilege, and an enrichment opportunity to know Sidney Levy. He led a magnificent life filled with adventures, true love, and intellectual gratification at the highest level. He loved art, mysteries, crossword puzzles, classical music (particularly Mozart and Bach), opera, and dance. Sidney Levy’s generosity of spirit will continue to inspire and inform the lives of all who knew him. He will live on forever in their memories as a source of inspiration, love, joy and awe.
Dr. Levy was preceded in death by his wife of 52 years, Bobette (nee Adler), son Bruce, and sister Rita Levy Remez. He is survived by his daughter, Joyce Adler Levy and her husband Christopher P. Egan; virtual daughter-in-law, Leslie Ann Bowman; sister, Bernice Horwitz; nieces, Jaimee (Larry) Horwitz Levin, Lana Remez, Deborah (Jeff) Remez, OHallie Remez, and Melinda Prosterman Gomez; nephews H. Scott Prosterman, Steve (Lucinda) Prosterman, Gary (Lana) Prosterman; cousin Mary (Eli Ball) Unobsky; great nieces Matar Remez, Linley (John) Prosterman Stokes, Adler Stokes, Kallen Prosterman, Elle Prosterman, Jennie Levin; and great nephews Woody (Gretchen) Levin, Tal Remez, and Joel Prosterman.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Bruce J. Levy Memorial Prize in Mathematics Endowed Fund at Pomona College, c/o Office of Stewardship, Pomona College, 550 North College Avenue, Suite 134 Claremont, CA 91711.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.