Is marketing a dirty word?

Last night I listened to a naked scientists’ podcast about the psychology of supermarket shopping. As the presenter and a psychologist walked through the shop they discussed different in store marketing devices and essentially argued consumers are tricked into buying more than they want and things they don’t want.

 
It got me thinking about whether marketing is always going to be seen as a dirty word.  

So why do some forms of marketing have such a bad name? Are consumers really powerless tricked into buying things? There is plenty of discussion in books like Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink on whether we have free will and just how much this can be influenced. But with lots of conflicting points of view (just check out this in depth discussion on Brain Blogger) it’s not always easy to draw simple conclusions.


There is certainly not space to debate the issues of free will in detail here, so assuming we are in control, but can be influenced; does marketing deserve its bad reputation and if not how can it be shaken off?

Turns out I’m not the only one who has been thinking about this problem. In an academic paper from last year that Frédéric Dalsace et al. penned, they suggest marketing needs to evolve in a number of ways. For example marketing is seen as an acceptable form of communication when it allows consumers to find out the information they want about a product they are interested in. But can a line be drawn that defines the difference between persuasion and unfair influence or even manipulation?

One thing we are seeing an increasingly amount of is PR and digital interaction being used to make marketing more appealing. You only have to think of some of the best loved adverts at the moment; Alexander Meerkat for Comparethemarket.com and Old Spice’s Isaiah Mustafa. Both have been embraced by consumer partly because they are brilliant ideas. But I would argue also through the power of supporting traditional advertising with high engagement tactics such as PR and social media.

When we worked on the Computertan campaign, highlighting dangers of sun beds, the amplification of the original idea through both blogs and traditional media is what made it truly potent. So come on marketers don’t just accept the criticism from Joe Blogs on the street – listen to him and evolve into something better.   

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