Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Marketing for good--and for ill

I can't wait for the upcoming book by Harvard Business School marketing professor John Quelch (his blog is here) and Katherine Jocz called "Greater Good"--because I am fully expecting to disagree with it.

I read the abstract last month and have been stewing over it since then. Here it is in full:

Marketing has a greater purpose, and marketers, a higher calling, than simply selling more widgets, according to John Quelch and Katherine Jocz. In "Greater Good", the authors contend that marketing performs an essential societal function--and does so democratically. They maintain that people would benefit if the realms of politics and marketing were informed by one another's best principles and practices. Quelch and Jocz lay out the six fundamental characteristics that marketing and democracy share: (1) exchange of value, such as goods, services, and promises, (2) consumption of goods and services, (3) choice in all decisions, (4) free flow of information, (5) active engagement of a majority of individuals, and (6) inclusion of as many people as possible. Without these six traits, both marketing and democracy would fail, and with them, society. Drawing on current and historical examples from economies around the world, this landmark work illuminates marketing's critical role in the development, growth, and governance of societies. It reveals how good marketing practices improve the political process and--in turn--the practice of democracy itself.

The ennobling of marketing--connecting it with vital societal interests--got my attention. I am a marketing professional, and I like to feel good about myself and my profession, and as such I liked the book's idea--for about five minutes, after which it lost its flavor faster than a free after-dinner mint.

What lingered was this thought: there's an awful lot of bad marketing out there (not ineffective marketing, but "marketing-for-ill"), and I'd wonder whether Quelch and Jocz would do more for society by writing about that.

Here are some fundamental principles of marketing-for-ill that I bet won't appear in Quelch's and Jocz's book: (1) bombard people with buy messages for commodity products such as credit cards, (2) use selective language to play up one's product while disparaging the competitors'--as with any Oracle ad, (3) craft deceptive messages to get people to buy something that is not in their best interests--exhibit A: low-introductory rate mortgages, (4) create multilevel marketing networks to make revenues primarily via self-consumption of the networks, (5) use complex pricing schemes to make it difficult to assess total costs before buying--e.g., "my cellphone plan."

It's unfair, of course, to judge the book without reading it. So I promise I'll read it when it comes out, and I'm pretty sure it will be a good book and unworthy of my scorn.

At minimum, it has caused me to confront a lot of what I don't like about my profession, and reflect on what I can do not to promote those ideas.

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marc rapp said...

Nice response. Agree 100%. Teach and inform with selling as an extension.

Starinchak said...

Ever heard of social marketing?

John Caddell said...

As I read the definition in Wikipedia, social marketing is using marketing tools to help achieve social good.

In addition to that, we as marketers should consider a "do no harm" objective--which is what I was alluding to in the post.