On responsible marketing, quantum consumers and social canaries

This is my most recent paper (after an interruption of close to a decade devoted to the exploration of e-learning – more thoughts on this forthcoming).

The genesis for the paper came as my wife talked to me about various types of… let’s call this ‘responsible consumption’, such as fair trade (equitable) goods, ‘bio’ food products, ‘green’ or sustainable consumption. Several coincidences got me going: a screening of Gore’s Inconvenient Truth; witnessing firsthand the sorry state of several otherwise paradisiac beaches on the Aegean, littered with plastic; listening to a podcast on Polanyi’s work; my being free to explore ideas since I was on sabbatical; watching Chomsky’s ‘Manufacturing Consent’; itching again to research ideas; but above all, a call for papers for a conference that coincides fortuitously with a trip I had already planned 🙂

My first reaction has been to google ‘responsible marketing’, ending-up essentially empty handed.

I read several books, tens of papers, several podcasts. For my own education. I do not pretend that my ideas are worth reading by anyone else at this point. Yet I think that some are important.

1) Most of what is published in our field is moralizing. I argue that CSR/societal/quality-of-life approaches skate on very thin ice. These approaches appear to be fatally flawed.

2) Marketing has instrumental responsibilities. Think about medicine. This discipline is built on (presumably) good intentions. Yet pushing blindly in the direction of prolonging life creates undesirable side-effects (to put it mildly). Similarly, marketing’s obsessive focus on consumer satisfaction has side effects. In fact, It has been close to a revelation for me to take stock of the… irrational?… emphasis that our flagship journal (JM) puts on satisfaction. (a somewhat more balanced view is found in JCR for instance).

3) Our models are naive. Naive models may predict accurately at the market level, but they ignore the tension created within each individual consumer. We need a model of quantum consumers to formally capture tension between conflicting goals.

4) Similarly, social tensions are created between stakeholders. Proximate stakeholders (shareholders, customers, suppliers and local communities) may exert exit/voice in the marketing process. Distant stakeholders have more limited means of action. Voice in the hope of influencing corporate behavior and, maybe, eventually, regulation. I argue that social canaries can be used as leading indicators that something is wrong with the marketing practice.

5) This last idea is encapsulated in a more focused definition of societal marketing in which we do not worry about the desire/interest dilemmas, we do not worry about the materialistic nature of contemporary societies, but we do worry about the emergence of changes in the current social contract.

Full length paper here. (ppt en français ici)

Comments appreciated. Below or via eMail



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