Marketing is the fulcrum upon which the world of business, commerce, trade, industry, and enterprise stands. There are many success stories and the movers and shakers of such fabulous lore that will tell you that marketing is the single most important factor to build up a brand, a service, or a business.
No one who speaks the marketing lingo walk and talk and is a driver behind an organisation’s growth, engagement, generation of consumers, conversion, and profitability will deny that marketing done right, ethically, astutely, responsibly, and with accountability can be the pivotal source that helps silo and fortify a brand; aiding in building brand presence, awareness, resonance, credibility, and equity.
Marketing helps increase effective means of communicating and networking with stakeholders; customers, suppliers, and intermediaries and other important channel members of your business.
Marketing is vital in providing information to your customers. It drives engagement. Creates value. Helps maintain a healthy relationship between consumers and your business. It is an essential constituent in growing and sustaining your company’s identity, image, and reputation.
It helps boost sales and create new revenue streams. Provides crucial insights about your product and service offerings. Marketing is the fundamental key in maintaining relevance and the driving component in establishing a competitive edge by positioning and differentiating your brand/service from that of your rivals and competitors.
Oh, come on, you read the title and dived into this article with popcorn, a strong coffee, or a nice glass of bubbly expecting to read something that will twist and rip the undergarments off certain marketing pundits and industry bigwigs.
I bow and always aim to please (interpret that how you will).
Where was I?
Oh yes, yes…
What happens when marketing becomes your tool that weaponises businesses to be tugged and pulled to the dark side?
The dark side
Marketing has the propensity and proclivity to lead customers towards harmful, hurtful, unnecessary, and damaging things. Marketing can be the sole practice that triggers sadness, rage, and anxiety in consumers to manipulate consumer decision-making. Fear tactics, misleading advertisements, misinformation driven campaigns (false statements, exaggerated benefits, unverifiable claims, concealing harmful facts), using children or women unethically to induce and attract customers, utilising demeaning references, and exploitation of product/service value are some aspects of marketing tipping towards unethical and misleading practises.
However, anyone who has been a marketer in the game long enough will tell you that in time, you are either:
- Hardened and refined like a fine wine and you do whatever it takes to hit your targets, grow the business, and convert leads
- So jaded by it all that you turn two blind eyes, ears, and a mind to the reality of any backlash and negativity
- You were erroneously part of practices and only doing your job
- It’s the process that matters and how you work towards achieving your goals through adversity and hardship and not the final result
- You are not part of the shark fest in such virulent crimson waters and therefore aren’t to blame for misleading practices
The bitter truth is all of us who are marketers, brand and business strategists, communication experts, and are a part of the advertising industry have been a part of the problem.
The bigger problem
Have we not all advocated and promoted products that we know are harmful, unhealthy, and disruptive to people’s wellbeing and lives?
Have we not conceptualised campaigns, conceived marketing strategies with imagery and messages to confuse, evoke, provoke, and incite emotional engagement in uses to promulgate impulsive purchases?
Have we not covered many a blemish and positioned brands and products as safe and secure when much of the time these are false, exaggerated claims? E.g. – the weight loss industry.
Just because brands and products brandish and slap on their International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) standards, product breakdowns, and nutrient fact labels – often encouraged and advised by marketers – the truth is, most people have no concept of what their recommended Daily Value (DV) is. Many people do not understand or care about the specifics of nutrition, the intake of vitamins, minerals, and protein.
While we do have scientific findings and literature by non-profit groups like the Institute of Medicine, nutritional divisions of some nations and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have depicted what our Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) ought to be.
Did you know that the bulk of nutrient facts and labels are 50 years old!?! Some of these DVs are from as far back as 1968 and rarely updated.
Most multinational companies all utilise high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in their products lavishly. Many fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies use synonyms like sucrose, dextrose, barley malt, and rice syrup among others to fox customers when they read the labels and details.
Who do you think conceives these cunning ideas and methods on behalf of these gargantuan multibillion-dollar brands?
The people who devise and implement strategies and plans by distorting the truth in order to promote their clients, attract potential buyers, and drive profitability?
According to an article published on 7 December 2020 in The Guardian, two of the most known carbonated drink manufacturers and a multinational food and drink processing conglomerate were named among the top plastic polluters in the world for the third year in a row.
Instead of finding real solutions to preserve environmental collapse and prevent ecological disaster, to reduce the global tide of plastic litter, phase out single-use, and figure out implementation processes of reuse systems, these billion-dollar corporations are backed by advertising agencies and marketers who earn handsomely from these brands to tackle their PR, oversee damage control, and promulgate how awesome these brands are – to detract from the harsh truth and distract the public from the actuality of how much impairment and catastrophe these world-class brands cause.
The truth is many marketers don’t give a beeswax about the repercussions and consequences, the impacts, and effects that these giants have upon the planet, people, and communities.
There is a bigger issue of faulty, flawed, and subpar products fighting for shelf space and prominence in the marketing world. Big names with poor and shoddy customer service use masterful communications to hoodwink and formulate a strategic-lock-in and once the hook is swallowed – customers are treated with little regard, respect, and value. Telecom companies are savants of the above. And while people complain and bicker, no one really does anything because the switching cost to a rival brand is simply not worth the hassle. It is a grave inconvenience. And very often when the top dog promises benchmark global standards and delivers disenchanting and disappointing customer service standards – switching to someone below the hierarchical ladder seems nonsensical.
Let’s not forget how irresponsible marketing results in preposterous shopping bouts due to accentuating impulsive purchases and compulsive behaviour in consumers. That’s how powerful some marketing campaigns are – gimmicks and sugar-coated tools to influence the purchase and consumption of products and services without considering how necessary or mandatory they are to people’s lives.
We see with the advent of technology how digital media has propelled the dopamine fix of users, at times to near fatal and cataclysmic proportions. The overuse, abuse, and exploitative utilisation of social media has been linked to anxiety, sleep disruption, depression, and anti-social behaviour of teenagers and young adults worldwide. Social media and our tech devices have a firm hold on our mental health, drugging human connection.
Dopamine is the “feel good” chemical that is released when we enjoy or relish something (food, drinks, sex, drugs) and dopamine triggers our inner rewards system. Social media and our tech gadgets activate that intense sense of pleasure, until it’s spent, then we crave to experience it again and again, craving for that initial hit or high of pleasure. At one point our brains bring our dopamine back to baseline levels causing a dopamine deficit state. The brain then resorts to restoring homeostasis; the clash and deviation of the upper and the downward spiral. What junkies call the “comedown”. Marketers develop clever content strategies and tools to fabricate new means and mechanisms to keep people hooked, clicking more and more content – be it videos, audio etc., to connect and seek validation from more strangers.
It is growing increasingly important in a world saturated with an influx of products and services that people see through the smokescreens of covertly evangelised brands. Are there prototypes and suitable testing carried out with sample sizes large enough before products are launched to the marketplace with a barrage of misinformation and false promises?
Take banks for instance that are brilliant at pushing for credibility through compromise. Marketing teams often promote prominent retail banks showcasing lower interest for loans, never being transparent of the hidden costs, and how quickly the interest is formulated to build up.
The customer in this day and age is privy to more information than ever before thanks to the internet, big data, the rise of tech, and globalisation. More and more are beginning to see through the smoke and mirrors seeing brands and products that market goods and services with false claims, irresponsibly, faulty attributes, fraudulent scams, harmful repercussions…we need to all remember; especially the modern-day entrepreneurs, business go-getters, brand evangelists, and customer-centric sales and marketing personalities that marketing is a tool, not an end.
(The writer is the frontman and lyricist of Stigmata, a creative consultant and brand strategist by profession, a self-published author and poet, thespian, animal rescuer, podcaster, and fitness enthusiast)
The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.