Do Brand Managers and Marketeers need a Soul?

We all know that the greatest challenge humanity is facing is environmental destruction or catastrophe that looms larger, every second that passes.

  • Take the latest ad campaign on PET bottles that was proudly pasted on all national dailies, possibly funded by All India Plastic Manufacturer Association, which  claiming that 90% of PET bottles are recycled in India. Even if I take this number at its face value, i was tempted to go deeper.

 

  • I am offering numbers that are publicly available. The average plastic per capita consumption in India is 11kg per year as opposed to the global average of 28 kilograms per person. Of this load of 11kgs, 20 percent is SUP (single use plastic) which comes to 2.2 kgs per person per year.

 

  • SUP takes the form of thin carry bags, wrapping films, straws and stirrers, disposable cutlery, plastic sticks used in balloons, ear buds and candies, cigarette butts, thermocol, small beverage bottles less than 200ml, and roadside banners. Interestingly, the list of SUP excludes multi-layered packaging in which snacks like chips, nuts, and candies are sold, which are almost never recycled and, therefore, shunned even by rag-pickers.

 

  • Of the other 8.8 kg, 90% is recycled which gives rise to another 880g per person per year that does not get recycled.

    This means that each of us on an average is consuming 3 kg of plastic that is not recycled, but which is dumped in rivers, in the air, and as sewage each year.

  • There are 1,380 million people living in the country. I would leave you to do the math.

 

I know that most if not all the readers of this blog would feel helpless and guilty as I remind them of these numbers. I also know that most of my readers of this blog would pay premium if the products they consume relinquish the use of SUPs.

 

And this is where the Marketeers come in – any semblance to the word ‘racketeers’ is unintended and unconscious.

 

I wish that the Marketeers could conceive of Value not just in terms of psychological premiums of differentiation, ego boosts, sexual undercurrents, and elitism that customers purchase, but actually define Value in how the product impacts the environment.

 

I wish that the Marketeers could think of Brand Strategies and Product Identification that inspire every consumer to purchase responsibly, and not manipulated towards mindless consumption.

 

I wish the Marketeers could explore Gandhi’s underlying assumptions of what this planet offers – in his statement that “the world has enough for our needs but not greed”, and bring in their creativity.

 

I wish we could redefine the Consumption algorithms, and now stress on paying premium while creating demand for traditional and creative crafts that we have in this country – where we don’t mindlessly buy 30 cheap homogenous T-shirts but one tenth the volume, and are willing to pay premium to the labor that was used for it.

 

It takes moral courage to stand up to the strategists and the investors and fight this relentless consumption led growth engines, and talk about externalities. The externalities and their costs are no longer figures in a researchers’ journal but acute and palpable realities as we sidestep the plastic refuse on our streets and look the other way.

 

It takes moral courage to refuse and stop selling products that objectify men and women, and seek a creative way of looking at Value in the eyes of the Customer.

 

The younger generation does not want anything to do with how a deodorant is sold or how an insurance policy is sold. The oomph and the sex or the fear and envy are all passe as most customers carry grave concerns about consumption and its impact on the ecology.

 

I wish that Marketeers give up these easy seductions to bring in volumes for their bean counting stakeholders, and really ask themselves … what is the Dharma of Marketing?

 

And I wish many of them could answer in affirmative when I refer to the question – Do Marketeers have a soul?

 

This is not an easy question for it is influenced by how Marketing is taught in business schools. Most business schools still peddle marketing courses on the pedestal of it being ‘AMORAL’. This I believe is the most hypocritical statement made – it may have been relevant in the last century, but it cannot remain so in this century.

Thus Customer Acquisition and Retention through marketing strategies is embedded in an ethical discourse. I have used the word Dharma earlier for it becomes easy for Indians to identify with.

There have been many western thinkers who have challenged the Narcissism that Amoral Management theory and research insidiously encourages. I only wish their voice gets louder as we peel away the facade of basic assumptions of Man painted as Homo Economicus out to maximize utility from every transaction he or she gets into.

The MAN and the WOMAN are more than just mindless nitwits, who can be seduced to buy tripe and in volumes – the Customer has a soul!

The question is whether the Marketeer wants to look at his or her? 

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4 thoughts on “Do Brand Managers and Marketeers need a Soul?

  1. Thought-provoking write-up – thank you! It raises two questions in my mind:

    1. You end by saying “the Customer has a soul” – but does that soul express itself in our buying decisions? Marketeers didn’t create the seduction-prone impulses in people – they just exploited them. If we (Customers) became more responsible and refused to buy products that don’t conform to environmental and ethical norms, there’s damn all Marketeers would be able to do. But to turn that into a mass movement would perhaps mean deploying exactly the kind of “persuasion science” that Marketeers have perfected in collaboration with psychologies and neuro-scientists – and since there’s no money in it (at least in the short term), that seems a bridge too far.

    2. This is true of so many other professions too. My own erstwhile profession, HR, is a great example: how many HR people can one accuse of having a soul, or at least of acting from that soul in performing their roles? If HR people exercised their souls, would employers get away with the kind of labour practices that we see all around us? If doctors acted from their soul, would healthcare be the exploitative and mercenary business it is today?

    Depressing thoughts all around! 🙂

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    1. I agree that most professions in the capitalist economy have found it easier to manipulate and collude with the customer – i agree that the customer and all of them are in cahoots – both as victims and as manipulators of self and others … it is kind of depressing and the entire paradigm needs a shift – one or two people may not make much of a difference. Greta the little girl seems to be an icon of an alternate movement and i am more optimistic because of her and millions around.

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      1. Greta and her ilk do indeed seem like the light at the end of the tunnel. I am, however, concerned about what appear to be the establishement’s efforts to co-opt her – the effort seems to be to turn her into a celebrity rather than focus on her message. Or maybe that’s just the cynical Puneri side of me speaking!

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      2. I agree – the greatest human resistance to change is to personalise the change and of course celebrate him / her thereby creating immense envy and displaced rage to this object… i think stating that you are a Puneri does not need the additional energies in spelling out the cynicism and the lack of faith that the Puneri is capable of!

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