Is marketing moral?
Do we make people buy stuff they don’t need or do we cater to their deepest needs and desires?
What’s our profession really about?
One might say…¨We are devils!¨
We can talk about providing people with happiness and self-esteem, but what our professional goal really is is to make our audience open up their wallets for our (usually already rich) client. We come to work every day and wonder how to make them want to buy more things they don’t really need.
Another might say… ¨We are angels!¨
Sure, we want an increase in sales, but what we really sell is happiness. It’s not about the product, it’s about how the products makes them feel. We find a hidden need, a secret desire and we fill that empty space with a tangible solution, thus making people happy.
I will say… ¨Neither!¨
Let’s first answer this important question:
Do we cover people’s actual needs and desires or do we create new, redundant ones?
In my opinion, nowadays – more and more, the former.
The post-crisis society has learned to value their time & money. They have either already seen all marketing gimmicks, or were just born into a world already full of advertisements and marketers’ baits scattered all over their surroundings. Both of those groups simply don’t fall for cheap tricks.
What they fall for are the products which really reflect their wishes, fit their lifestyle, express their personality. Are those actual needs or are those results of marketing campaigns and of the consumptionist lifestyle? Abraham Maslow would strongly support the first view.
Maslow’s pyramid tells us, that once people have satisfied their basic, physiological needs, what matters to them is their safety, feelings of love, esteem and self-actualization – those are so called „deficiency needs”. Should they not be met, there might be no physical indications, but the individual will demonstrate psychological symptoms of anxiousness or tenseness.
So yes: our products do cover actual human needs.
Which for us means that either we really get to know our audience and cater to their wishes or we starve. Brands nowadays need to be close to their customers – they have to listen, understand, express sympathy and compassion.
A great example is so-called green marketing. At the beginning of 2015, the American retail giant known as Walmart has launched their Sustainability Leaders program, which has been developed since 2009. Thanks to this program, products coming from most „green” companies were identified and thus promoted.
A marketing trick using the ecological trend of modern customers or an important change resulting from actual care for our environment? You name it – the important thing is, everybody wins.
A similar example could be the Celebrate Pride movement earlier in 2015, when the world’s most recognizeable companies expressed their support for same-sex marriage. Did they do it for the sales, or did they do it to back the concept of equality? Does it really matter?
A study conducted by Nielsen in 2013, which included over 29 000 respondents in 58 countries, has shown that 50% of global consumers are willing to spend more money on goods or services provided by companies considered socially responsible – companies that give back to the society. Of course, taking the skepticism towards corporations into account, their social programs must be authentic and in line with the company’s goals, values and vision.
An important distinction: bear in mind that consumers are willing to spend more thanks to a socially responsible image of a company, not of the particular product. Which once more underlines the significance of corporate image – not of the marketing tricks used to advertise a specific good or service.
Which means that marketers and brand managers need to be excessively attentive to every little aspect of their activities. In a digital environment, where every digital step leaves a trace, „one misused quote, poor decision or untruthful marketing ploy can do irreparable damage to the reputation of a company’s image” (Greg McGuinness, Senior Partner at CPA Tax Planning CPA, J.D).
The bottom line is: a marketing world, in which us – marketers – need to assign the highest value to our customer’s needs and our company’s and brand’s positive image in order to pay our bills – is a world in which we all win.
No devils, no angels: just progress, respect towards the value of people’s money and towards the role we play in our environments. As for the rest – a marketer’s job is a job like any other.