4th International Marketing Conference on Marketing, Technology & Society from 17 – 19 April 2020 at IIM Kozhikode

“ Ours is the first age in which many thousands of the best-trained minds have made it their full-time business to get inside the collective public mind …………. to get inside in order to manipulate, exploit and control.”

Marshal McLuhan

The intrusiveness of organised marketing is so all-pervasive that it emerges as the most potent social force that shapes human behaviour. An individual is exposed at a very early age to the intensive persuasion of marketers through advertising, sales promotion, merchandising and publicity so that significant part of the adult socialization is occupied with learning to be a consumer who is more materialistic and prone to conspicuous consumption. Consumers are persuaded to buy more and use more than what rationally justified. They are; persuaded to define their identity in terms of their possessions and to modify their social image by the consumption of products. On a more profound level, this is done in order to induce people to keep being productive in order to keep consuming more so that the economic wheels of progress keep moving forward.

John Kenneth Galbraith, the celebrated economist offered the following argument. ‘In the absence of massive and artful persuasion that accompanies the management of demand, increasing abundance might well have reduced the interest of the people in acquiring more goods. Consumers not being pressed by the need to consume more, they might need less income and might work less reliably. This consequence is undesirable for the industrial system.’

Maintaining the propensity to consume is accomplished by channelling psychological needs and aspirations into consumption behaviours. The intent of marketing and more specifically advertising could be to preoccupy the society with material concerns and positioning commercially available goods or services as the paths to happiness and solutions to all possible problems and needs. Many consumer researchers feel that marketing-lead commercial persuasion appears to programme not only the shopping and product use behaviour but also the larger domains of social roles, language, goals, values and the source of meaning in the culture. Contrary to Gauthama Budha’s tenet; ‘Desire is the cause of all sorrows’ marketing suggest that desire is the fountainhead of life and consumption is the path to find meaning in life.

Sean MacBride, the Nobel laureate remarked that the persuasion mechanism in marketing exalts the materialistic virtues of consumption by exploiting achievement drives and emulative anxieties, employing tactics of hidden manipulation, playing on emotions, maximizing appeal and minimizing information, trivializing, eliminating objective considerations, contriving illogical situations, and generally reducing men, women and children to the role of irrational consumers.

There is criticism against the proliferation and intrusion of various media into the everyday lives of the citizens. The consumers are surrounded by the marketing efforts no matter where they turn, intruding into the media, the streets, the rituals, the celebrations and festivals and into the very private and personal lives of people.

The modern media enabled by technology intensifies this effect by making available a pervasive and intrusive channel of communication between the firm and the consumer and between the consumers. The time spend on social networks and electronic media is ever on the rise, and in a society connected by digital networks, marketing gets to reach the individuals 24×7 often helped along by ubiquitous sharing behaviour on social media.

Internet, social media, widespread viral propagation of marketing content, perceived higher credibility of marketing messages when they are passed along by known people in the network, passive conditioning as a result of exposure to frequent product placements, these are all relatively new marketing phenomena.

Brands are now looking at making their audience a part of the communication channel. At the same time, brands often lose their control over the content, with user-generated and user mutated content shared in the social media. ‘Trolls’ and ‘memes’ are no more ignorable by the marketer. Rumours propagate fast in a networked society and brands slow to respond are often caught on the wrong foot. Disgruntled customers share their frustrations online which also travel fast. At the same time, marketers actively use technology to propagate their messages, and also track the consumer’s footprint to better target and reach the user.

Marketing interacts with technology in so many ways and the effect of this interaction on business outcomes, on consumer behaviour and society are not always easy to understand, and not always positive either.

Though marketing academics and practitioners may not share the implied pessimism, it remains a fact that the forces of marketing play an extremely powerful role in shaping the modern society and some of its impacts are socially undesirable. Trends like increasing consumer materialism, conspicuous consumption, obsessive consumption, compulsive consumption, consumption of drugs, addiction to internet pornography, etc. are on the rise. Also over exposure to marketing communication from a very young age could result in the youth having a distorted perception of life and its values, development of emulative anxieties and insecurities, poor self-evaluation and self-deprecation resulting from upward comparisons with idealised media images etc. There is increasing attention among the academic community in the western hemisphere on these aspects and many research studies are being reported in the reputed journals on similar themes. In fact, the Association for Consumer Research came out with a task force report on research agendas in transformative consumer research. The term transformative research was defined as “investigations that are framed by a fundamental problem or opportunity, and that strive to respect, uphold, and improve life in relation to the myriad conditions, demands, potentialities, and effects of consumption.’ It is time the marketing community must concern itself on this important aspect – the intended and unintended consequence of marketing and technology on society. Therefore the theme for the conference is chosen as Marketing, Technology and the Society.

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