Well, It’s is just a tool. But it is the marketer and the goods being pushed that really matter. If it’s drugs, or cigarettes, then yes, certainly it is evil. Then there are cases where the marketer started out with a good reputation and has turned malefic. Recently, a very large reputed mutual fund in India that holds tens of thousands of crores of people’s money in trust to invest on their behalf in certain types of funds (allegedly safer!) faced extreme redemption pressure from investors (like a run on the bank); the debt market froze at the same time due to Covid 19; they knew this; the only way out was to immediately inform investors; But instead, they decided to put out advertisements inviting more people to invest in these safe funds. Such marketers (the very top management or leaders) apparently have intentions of profiteering while causing damage to others. They forget their code of ethics in search of profits.
Similar could also be the case of a marketer of organic vegetables who gets overtaken by greed and starts to supply produce that is loaded with pesticide.
Doubtfully Evil Marketing
My doctor prescribing me an expensive antibiotic when I could do with the generic version certainly doubtful. A non-profit doing fund raising, calling me for donations is also doubtful especially when I’m not able to understand what part of the fund is for the cause/outcome and what is being used to fund their extravagant administrative expense.
Essential services around last rites or even coffin makers often have a basic package, a silver, and a gold package. They design the basic package to be so pathetic that people are forced go in for a silver package, since they really cannot afford the gold. All three packages almost cost the same; this is unethical, ripping people off during their moment of distress and agony.
Marketing to greed
The very purpose of marketing is to convert something from a commodity to a brand; or even to skim off the market as much as possible before the product becomes commoditised. In this category a lot of luxury goods marketing would fall, which typically play on impulses and desires and end up decreasing the financial security of a person, forcing them into unwise decisions. So, if marketing forced some consumers to buy products that they would not have done so otherwise it is evil. But let’s be clear – if this provides some happiness to the buyer, then it certainly isn’t evil marketing at least for the one who enjoyed the product. So, this could be grey for some, and good for others.
Border line – neither black/white marketing
So, while we may say marketing is evil and it caused people to buy what they would not have otherwise, it could also have made them use a product that impacted their life positively. Take for example cosmetics. Some may say it is evil marketing and forcing people’s psyche into a framework of beauty. But users of cosmetics may feel that beauty is not the end goal, but it is the process and the usage of cosmetics that gives them happiness. If that is so then it certainly doesn’t qualify as evil marketing.
On the contrary, can marketing be good? Or is it just bombarding us with needless information? Well, as we all saw in the recent pandemic, there was a lot of marketing done by Government agencies and health organization to help protect us from the pandemic. While this may be social, there were also a few commercial advertisements like say a liquid soap company promoting hygiene in this era of pandemics. Similarly, promotion of organic produce or yoga is promoting a product or idea and informing us about something that could be good for us. This could be called good marketing, at least until the marketer’s goodness is overtaken by greed.
So, what should we do?
The marketer is saying they have good products that do something really well, and can make a change in this world, hence they are trying to tell a story, so that people take notice and change and derive value and happiness.
It is also true that if we keep telling ourselves things every day, true or false, it becomes our reality. Marketing is somewhat like this. I see this in news channels these days. They all feed us with biased news, and it forms the only world view of many viewers to the extent that people start to believe that the one instance with some strong visuals that was depicted repeatedly on media is the only reality. In all these cases, even those of us in the process, who handle these marketing tools and managing the operations should know we are abetting such atrocities or goodness.
Hence, fundamentally, we need to keep some basics in mind.
- We must be really good at what we do
- good at making something that is of value to some consumers, and
- finally, and only lastly do we have to be experts at marketing.
We need to be all three to be successful. So, improve the product – “if it is bad”. When we start to really embark on marketing, we realize gaps in our offering and figure out how the product should have been in the first place. We then need to seriously work on the product front. Marketing not only helps us reach out, but also teaches us to improve.
Marketing is not awfully expensive these days, it has more speed, reach and power. But it is just a tool. It must be used wisely. It is not just about using technology or software to be faster. If we send out garbage, we get it back. We don’t want to be doing a lot of wasted digital campaigns and activity for nothing. It has to be about telling a story. Market to the right people. We cannot be everything to everyone. Someone needs to stand apart from the noise and apply concepts. Communicate value. So, get someone to think through the entire strategy, and do it for you. In the era of remote work, access to expertise is easier. The impact comes from our intention to start marketing and improving our product, not form the tools, technologies used in marketing, which is more a matter of detail.