Marketing is generally thought of as the process of promoting goods and services to the end user. We can think of this as McDonald's advertising its Big Mac in such a way that we feel that we really need one for lunch. This demonstrates the advertising piece of the marketing mix, and is the element that most people identify with marketing.
Society is generally defined as the condition in which members of a community live together for their mutual benefit. Societies are more than just the individual members that make up the group, but the sum of the collective. We are all members of a society, and interact with the other members in that community. So what is the impact of marketing in the society?
Negative Connotations of Marketing – They Made Me Do It
Ever since society passed from a Subsistence economy (I grow my own food, make my own clothes, and do not need anyone else to help me) to a Trade economy (I'll grow some food to sell to you, if you will make some clothes to sell to me) we have had the challenge of marketing our products and services to others (Uh-oh, now that there are two people making clothes in my town I'd better let people know why they should buy mine) . And ever since that first sales pitch there have been criticisms of marketing; like deceptive practices, high prices, unsafe products, and high-pressure sales – to name a few.
But many critics go further and claim that marketing has created false wants, promoted materialism, produced cultural pollution, and allowed big companies to gain significant political power. And there is an element of truth to all of these claims. Companies that have not performed ethically have had a damaging effect in society that the ethical businesses must now work through.
And the Good?
But it is hard to deny the positives that marketing has bought upon society as well. The wealth of technology at our fingertips today is directly related to the sales of these items and the continued downgrading pricing caused by the promotion of computers, cell phones, GPS navigation systems, digital cameras, MP3 players, etc. Dozens and dozens of these types of products are commonplace today, but appeared like luxuries for the rich just a few years ago. In fact, most of the people below the poverty line in the US today live better than royalty did 200 years ago – with cars, heating and air conditioning, microwave ovens, cell phones, televisions, and other amenities now considered necessities.
More importantly, most medium to large companies now have significant charitable giving and service programs that donate large sums of money and time to needy organizations that make a difference in the lives of millions of people every year. Whether companies do this out of a pure heart or a need for positive publicity, the result is the same – and many of the needs in society are better for it.
Doing the Right Thing
As the public grows more knowledgeable and educated, they hold businesses to a higher standard than was once the case. The abuses of workers that were common a century ago are not tolerated by society today. Now corporate ethics policies drive decisions in the boardroom and the marketing department so that the end user (that's us) benefits in many ways. Doing the right thing is a good policy because people want to do business with someone they trust and respect. And the companies that are exposed as cheaters, liars, or abusers are generally shunned in the marketplace (Enron, anyone?).
The bottom line is that although there is a negative impact of marketing in the society, there is a positive to balance it out; and it is our job as society to reward the good guys with our purchases and punishment the unethical companies by neglecting them in the marketplace. As we continue to do this over and over, we make Big Business aware that they will make money only if they honor their ethics policies and do the right thing on a consistent basis. In this way we can make a difference in the marketing tactics employed to sway our decisions. And that is a positive that we as a society can live with.