Marketing Morality

  Thanks largely to Hollywood, depictions of utopian societies have always sought to chastise the future of marketing as a tool of control. Advertising is, after all, the not-so-distant cousin of propaganda, and even today wields a semi-similar power.

  And this is really the scariest thing about today’s consumer relationships. The gap is narrowing; science fiction is encroaching on our realities. A few years back Minority Report did a great job of showing us what a future of personal advertising might look like – the consumer’s name repeated, establishing that imperative level of familiarity, an endless onslaught of targeted adverts based on past preferences, tastes and proclivities. Or from the world of Futurama, adverts that infiltrate our dreams, addressing the exact needs and desires of our subconscious.

  Marketing has increasingly become a pervasive tool. In our past blog, we discussed how the consumer relationship has become one of willingness, conformity and even need. Social marketing has broken down the wall between social and commercial circles. In essence, the place where we’re sold to is the same place we chat with our friends, and we develop a very literal relationship with the product, service and seller.

  What we have now is a two-way flow of information. It’s become a conversation, and not a monologue. As consumers, we’re complicit in the formation of these frightening futures. And as marketers, it’s essential we examine the moral obligation of our tools – great power with great responsibility, and all that malarkey. 

  In a relationship similar to the one between an author and a piece of work, how far do we go to assume some responsibility for the work we, as marketers, produce? We’re falling head-first into futures that frightened and terrified the previous generation, but which we’re now, knowing and unknowingly, ushering into the present day.

  We have targeted advertisements. Search engines use cookies to identify tastes and patterns in consumer behaviour. And this sort of familiarity, intrusive to some and a welcome convenience to others, is simply a more precocious version of what’s to come: a Minority Report-styled society. The reciprocal consumer-seller relationship we have today, in which the consumer’s social behaviour is as much a part of marketing success as company-led campaigns, is a prelude to something potentially far dangerous. As 21st century marketers, we’re the true architects of social behaviour. By infiltrating the inner circles, and coming closer to touching upon and understanding consumer psychology, marketing has become the tool to establishing social trends, which are often inseparable from commercial want, and identifying the cool from the not-so cool.

  We’re too close now, too complicit, to deny moral responsibility. It’s often said that the average ‘city dweller’ is confronted by 5,000 advertisements per day. Branding, campaign marketing and product placement are all powerful tools that aren’t inherently good or bad. Marketers help companies grow for the betterment of the society. The other side of that, however, is knowing where that proverbial line resides, between satisfying organic consumer need and exploiting the new, close consumer relationship that has been facilitated by social media.

  They’ll either be a time where we stumble upon ourselves and know we’ve gone too far, or popular sci-fi will be more prophetic than any of us could have ever realised.