Marketing is one of the key drivers of consumerism. It has been since humans first had things to sell to one another, beginning with simple signs in the town market. But modern consumerism is a beast compared to a physical market. It’s obvious when you look at the continual growth of mega sales events like Singles Day and Black Friday and Cyber Monday.
This got me asking, is there fundamental goodness in marketing? Or is it something that only greedy people engage in for their own profit, at the expense of the environment and people?
I personally need to know that marketing isn’t just about peddling goods and making people buy more. I need to know because I believe in the need for environmental sustainability and mindfulness, both of which are at odds with marketing. Marketing makes people buy stuff, and stuff pollutes the environment and tempts people.
Knowing what to buy
I think one of the fundamental goodness of marketing is that it can help genuinely better products that people actually need stand out.
If someone is in the market for a computer, he may end up buying one that is inferior in quality yet is more expensive than the one produced by another company, because he didn’t know about the second company. Marketing enables new companies to have a chance of thriving from selling a genuinely better product.
Better products can be more durable, made of materials that are more sustainable to manufacture, or be produced closer to where they are used. All of these translate to a cleaner environment.
Bringing people together
I’d argue that marketing also has a second fundamental goodness in helping to bond people through a common belief. Campaigns by politicians illustrate this quite well. People are rallied by campaigns to stand behind the common cause of electing someone to represent them as a town, city, state, or country. That’s achievable because of marketing.
Similarly, non-profit organisations like the World Wildlife Fund are able to recruit volunteers and receive donations because of marketing.
These are some of the fundamental goodness of marketing that I can think of. Of course, I can more easily think of the bad things that come out of marketing. Marketing is also used for:
- Planting fear and desire in people’s minds to sell crappy consumer goods that people don’t actually need (you need a new bag, because yours is out of style, and out of style people are less successful and happy)
- Recruiting people into terrorist organisations (join us in destabilising societies because it is basically what god wants)
It also makes use of imagery to as a cheapshot to grab our attention that makes marketing feel dirty.
I’m not looking for the answer to whether marketing is more good than bad. I don’t think anyone can answer that question objectively.
What I care about is whether there are any good reasons for marketing to exist, because I need to be able to live with my conscience of actively marketing products for my own company as well as working in an advertising technology startup.
This short thought exercise helped clarify that it does. And for now, my conscience can make do with that.
Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash.
ADDITION 28.05.2020: I added a link to a new post about how marketing feels dirty.