Teaching marketing under the learning paradigm usually brings us to the same reflection: is marketing ethical?. We used to work with the George Brenkert phrase: marketing as a technology to be employed to achieve something that is entirely in the hands of the would-be marketer.
But recently undergraduate students posit a more specific question: is marketing inherently evil?. Is marketing the hidden enemy (as shown in this video about how subliminal advertising tries to make you fat)? Or what about retail marketing as a developer of the Gruen Transfer as explained by Douglas Rushkoof: the moment when consumers enter a shopping mall and lose track of their original intentions, turned into a shopping drone by architecture, music, visuals and layout purposely designed to confuse and disorientate, and to cause individuals to spend more money
Seth Gadin has his own answer to the question: Are marketers evil?. “Based on a long career in the business, I’d have to answer “some of them” (…) It’s evil to persuade kids to start smoking, to sell a patent medicine when an effective one is available. It’s beautiful to persuade people to get a polio vaccine. Just like every powerful tool, the impact comes from the craftsman, not the tool”.
Our team at ESADE has developed a different answer; one which we have learnt from Professor April Atwood (Albers School of Business & Economics at Seattle University). We’ve decided to allow students to reach their own conclusion through an experiential learning process. We will use the model of Problem Based Service Learning, working with an agency and social cause, to allow them to decide for themselves whether marketing is a cause or contributor to social problems, or a way to address them.
They will analyze how marketing influences teenagers to drink tons of fizzy drinks or to smoke at school. They will also look at howsocial marketing gives value to the opposite point of view. And with any luck, they will decide what kind of craftsmen they want to be.