“Criticisms and Contributions of Marketing: An Excerpt from Philip Kotler’s Autobiography” – Philip Kotler
PHILIP KOTLER is known around the world as the “father of modern marketing.” For over 50 years he has taught at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. Kotler’s book “Marketing Management” is the most widely used textbook in marketing around the world. His autobiography, My Adventures in Marketing, tells his story – how a Ph.D. economist from M.I.T. became the world’s leading marketing authority. The following is an excerpt.
Criticisms and Contributions of Marketing
Marketing is a pervasive human activity. Practiced by every business and by countless individuals, it nevertheless manages to draw endless criticism. Woody Allen once remarked: “There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?” Why does marketing seem to irritate many people?
First, there is the intrusiveness of millions of brands that want to wrest money from our bank accounts, brands in which we normally have little interest nor that would significantly increase our well-being. It is estimated that we are exposed to 5,000 commercials a day without noticing most of them. These brands are collecting information about us as we use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, You Tube, or Google and they reach a point of knowing so much about us that they hope to send the right message at the right time and place to incentivize us to make a purchase. We resent our loss of privacy and sometimes wish that we could live in a society free of advertising.
Second, there is frequent exaggeration or deceitfulness of the messages. Charles Revson of cosmetics brand Revlon said it well: “In the factory, we make the product; in the store, we sell hope.” Others will hint: “Buy this convertible, and women will swarm all over you.” Each medicine will cure the described illness, and each pair of shoes will let you glide through life. Vance Packard, one of marketing’s most dedicated critics, wrote the Hidden Persuaders and The Status Seekers replete with stories of marketing practices to get people to buy things they didn’t need or want. Ralph Nader, a major founder of the consumer movement, wrote Unsafe at Any Speed, to expose the auto industry’s lack of safety in the design of many of its automobiles.
Third, marketing seems to neglect the hidden costs and damage to the environment that our high consumption creates. Businesses in the past were not charged for the air and water pollution that their activities produced. Rachel Carson alerted us in her book Silent Spring on the ravages to our rivers and streams by the relentless use and disposal of our natural resources and the weak regulations covering production activity. Add to this that companies gain by continually upgrading their products (called by its critics “planned obsolescence”), turning older versions of products into throwaways that pile up in waste dumps. As the level of world consumption increases, its damaging effects on the environment could make the planet uninhabitable.
Fourth, marketers pay little attention to the five billion desperately poor people in the world (of the 7 billion on the planet) who need much lower cost products. The poor do not have the means to buy even the cheapest bottle of shampoo. This was the case until Unilever started to package shampoo in a very small bag, or sachet. Even here, the price per ounce of shampoo is higher than in a regular bottle. The main point is that marketers go to where the money is which is mainly in the hands of the working class, the middle class, and the rich, all of whom add up to two billion out of the seven billion people on the planet.
Fifth, marketing’s job is to increase consumption and it does this by increasing covetousness. Marketers operate on the assumption that there are no limits to human wants and everything could be made and sold as an object of desire. The result is that many people spend more than they can afford, facilitated greatly through the omnipresence of credit cards. The average American household has a credit card debt of $16,000 and what is worse, their interest rate may average 15 percent annually. The U.S. has failed as a society to produce an ethic of sane consumption in its consumers. Many other societies, especially European and Asian societies, have a much higher rate of saving vs. spending. In earlier America, getting into deep debt was regarded as a black mark and even a sin. Today, the motto is “Buy now. Pay later.”
Sixth, marketers work hard to differentiate their offerings through the heavy use of advertising and branding, whose job is to hide the commodity nature of most offerings. There isn’t much difference between most brands of coffee or aspirin. Advertising and branding increase the cost of most products, sometimes by as much as 10-20%. They don’t grow the product category so much as shift brand shares. Naomi Klein is the strongest critic of branding and she provides much evidence of its cost and its false differentiation in her book No Logo.
Seventh, marketers are ready to sell anything that consumers want, without regard to its fitness for consumption. For years, marketers sold cigarettes and dismissed or denied evidence of the damaging effects of smoking. Had laws not prevented selling cigarettes to minors, marketers would want to get minors early into the smoking addiction and have them buy cigarettes for the next 70 years. Marketers don’t raise questions about marketing alcohol to drunkards, or guns to mentally disturbed people. Marketers are ready to use any appeals that work, such as glamorizing smoking, showing good times with beer drinking, and using fear and security to sell more guns.
I will stop listing further criticisms of marketing. I want to emphasize that not all marketers are the manipulative Mad Men dramatized in the popular American television show. Most major companies and marketers exhibit a high level of integrity and transparency in marketing their products and services. They know that deceitfulness and manipulation can backfire on their reputations and lose customers and damage their reputation.
We now will state the other side of marketing, namely its contributions. I would like to point out the major contributions of marketing to society.
First, marketing has raised our standard of living and built the middle class. Marketers, through intensely competing with each other, have developed products with new features, better quality and design, and superior service. Marketing has created the largest array of products, brands, and services that the world has even seen. Consumers today can live a life of affluence, health and entertainment that was not available to even the richest persons in the past.
Second, marketing is a major force in job creation and economic growth. Marketers are relentless in bringing new products and life styles to people’s attention and enticing them to try new products, services and experiences. If their marketing succeeds, people spend more money and this creates more jobs. The result is a higher Gross Domestic Product.
Third, marketing improves the ease with which people can obtain the products, services and experiences that they desire. Every town will have a supply of Wrigley chewing gum, McDonald’s hamburgers, and Bayer aspirin. Marketers not only ensure mass availability of their offerings but also mass information about their offerings and where they can be found.
Fourth, marketing offers a broad range of prices available for common products. Some businesses supply products priced at the low end, others at the middle, and still others at the high or highest end. Car buyers can choose a cheap second hand car, a medium priced new car, or buy a Ferrari or Rolls Royce for several hundred thousand dollars. A Swedish carmaker, Koenigsegg, prices his car at $3 million and it won’t be ready for four years.
Philip Kotler‘s My Adventures in Marketing was published in June, 2017. The book covers: new ideas on marketing science and practice – views on the future of marketing and retailing – views on place marketing, person marketing, idea and cause marketing – encounters with museums, art collectors, and the performing arts – concerns about the growing threats to Capitalism and Democracy – proposals for reducing poverty, corruption and income inequality – international adventures in Italy, Sweden, Japan, India, Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil and Mexico – life in Chicago, Chautauqua and Longboat Key, Fl. – meeting Nancy and raising their wonderful children and grandchildren – adventures at the University of Chicago, M.I.T., Harvard and Northwestern. Copies of the limited edition are available for sale on Amazon.