For his book Social Marketing, Gerard Hastings chose the evocative subtitle “Why should the devil have all the best tunes?” This phrase illustrates the feeling, shared by many marketers, of trying to have a positive impact on society through their work. Why should effective marketing only be applied to sell products that hinder sustainable development, whether by burning fossil fuels, generating childhood obesity or perpetuating social differences in Bangladesh?
The surprising thing is that marketing, and the professionals who work in this field, are able to evolve from the ‘dark side of the Force’. Research shows that working is marketing is almost viewed as something you wouldn’t want the other parents at your children’s school to know about. Let’s look at the data: 65% of citizens have a negative attitude towards marketing; marketing is seen as a villain for its role in stimulating unsustainable levels of demand; marketing makes us buy things we don’t want; marketers cause our society to engage in unsustainable levels of consumption simply because companies give us economic resources to do so, because the competition is doing the same thing… and because we know how to do it. Like Jessica Rabbit said, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”
Marketers have an intimate justification: we respond to the preferences of consumers, who are free and sovereign individuals. Caveat emptor: the responsibility lies with the buyer.
But the future does exist. As Varey once said, “Marketing surely has a future – what will we have it be?” Working for the forces of good – putting forth our best music – will require, as Kotler suggested, that we break one of our most sacred rules: Don’t judge what the customer wants. Are we really ready to judge our customers, instead offering them proposals that – as we will explain to them – are for the good of the future?