The Moral Side Of Marketing

“It wasn’t a question of profit versus non-profit. It was how do we live.” – Elon Musk on launching Tesla Motors and SpaceX

This article will be slightly different from the rest of this blog. There will be no marketing strategies, tips or theories here. Here I will talk about the moral side of marketing, and yes, there is such a thing. I will try and prove that it is not all bad and there could be good marketers with good mission and goals.

Since I started studying marketing in college and expressing my interests in the subject to friends and family, I have realised that the majority of people think of marketing as a manipulative and evil subject. Marketers are seen as the people who are trying to sell you a product. Often that will be something that you do not need. They will do that at any cost necessary too. Marketers will be persuasive even though they might realise you cannot afford whatever they are selling. They might see that you do not need that extra in your life but will do anything to make you believe you have to buy what they are selling to you.

I cannot really blame anyone for making such assumptions as I am one of these people. As paradoxical as it may seem, I do not agree with what marketing and marketers are doing to this world. Marketing turned us into shopping monsters and we forgot what really matters.

I will start with the one thing that drives the evil side of marketing: money! People say money cannot make you happy. I believe that is not true. Money can make you happy as long as you do not become greedy and know what to do with them. In his book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” Robert Kiyosaki teaches us a valuable lesson about personal financing and what role money should actually play in our lives. We need to realise that money is only a tool that helps us live a better life. His most important investment advice is for people to invest in themselves. Invest in knowledge and self-development. Money is not the centre of the universe and that is where most of us get lost.

Kiyosaki gives example of people sacrificing their lives for a promotion. Promotion leads to more money, which we believe will give us freedom. He destroys that myth by saying that when we have more, we buy more. Your salary goes up which leads you to desire a bigger house, meaning a bigger mortgage. You want better, more expensive clothes, better car etc. All this leads to the need for more and more money. In the end, people make more money but also go in bigger debt.

Except for the banks and the system we have created for us, there is something else to be blamed for that excessive need for spending – marketing and marketers. They are the ones who keep showing what new is on the market and make you believe that you need it. We now live in a world cluttered with products and ads. There are different researches and data available online, stating that the average person is exposed from 200 to 3000 and above ads, daily. This includes TV, radio, internet and print. That exposure brainwashes us to think that we need stuff that we can easily live and be happy without.

Once, not that far ago, marketers were very good at selling us cigarettes, for example. Most of us still remember the iconic Marlboro man. The government intervened and regulations helped to stop mass advertising of these products. But now there are other products who are influencing our health. I strongly believe that in the near future we will look back and think the same way about sugary products, alcohol and pharmaceutical products being advertised freely, as the way we now think about cigarette ads.

After all this you probably think:

“If your opinion about marketing is that it is something evil, why would you start studying it and create a blog about it!?”

It does not make much sense at first look I know. There is that other side of marketing though. The side where marketers are helping the small businesses and individuals who have innovative ideas and dreams of changing the world for the better. These are the people who do not have the resources to compete on a marketing level as their established competitors. These ideas need to be spread and there is no better way than doing it through a good marketing campaign. If you can’t beat them join them. Play their game, be better at it and beat them.

I just finished a great book and am almost done with another which led me to some thoughts that you will read about in the next few paragraphs. I am talking about “My Inventions: Autobiography of Nikola Tesla” and Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk, “How the billionaire of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our future”. I really recommend everyone to read those two books and in that order too. You will be surprised by the similarities of these two great minds and what drives them.

Let’s assume for example, that marketing was big in the 1900s as it is today and Nikola Tesla had a good team of marketers. We would probably now be living in a completely different world. If he was able to spread his ideas for “a ring around the equator which would float freely and could be arrested in its spinning motion by reactionary forces, thus enabling travel at a rate of about one thousand miles an hour”, the transportation systems we know could have been on another level today. Another one of his creations was the wireless transmitter which would have allowed “factories driven thousands of miles from waterfalls furnishing the power; aerial machines will be propelled around the earth without a stop without a stop and the sun’s energy controlled to create lakes and rivers for motive purposes and transformation of arid deserts into fertile lands” (ref. “My Inventions: Autobiography of Nikola Tesla”). There were many more ideas which he talks about in his autobiography but never made it to live because the people who knew about them, were the ones who will lose the most.

Nikola_Tesla

(source: whollyscience.org)

Thankfully there are more people like Tesla who are trying to change the world today in the same way he did. Now though, with the help of marketing, they can spread their ideas to the right people and bring them to life. This is a person, who invested everything he has earned from the sell of PayPal to eBay, in his three companies (Space X, Tesla Motors and Solar City) with the one mission to completely change life on earth and even make life on a different planet possible. From his biography written by Ashlee Vance, it comes clear that even he hates what marketing has done to us. He quotes a friend of his who said to him:

“The greatest minds of our generation are thinking about how to make people click ads”

For what he says that it “sucks”, and it really does. He also has gone through a lot of marketers who keep on failing to help him popularise his ideas. It is a hard job because if he succeeds a lot of businesses will suffer. He will turn around the business world as well as anything else, which means some companies will die and others will be born. All of these “old” companies have one advantage over him and that is brand recognition. Very well-funded and strong marketing campaigns who are still controlling the consumers’ minds will be one of the biggest challenges ahead of SpaceX, Tesla and Solar City.

There are more people like Elon Musk, who need help to develop and spread their ideas. Maybe not so dramatic as him, but still people who want to change the world for the better. People who need finances to help develop their ideas, not for a “wolf of wall street” life. The life of trophy houses with trophy cars and trophy girlfriends. Unfortunately, marketers are working in favour of the “wolf”, but this could change.

A simple example of such change is crowdfunding websites like kickstarter.com, where you can find a lot of people with great innovative ideas. Websites like that are helping these great minds to fund their ideas, but unfortunately, they only give them the start. Once the product or service is alive, these companies are on their own in the dark “dog eat dog” market. Big companies are watching and taking over anything that is a threat because they can afford it. These small companies cannot fight against the big conglomerates.

What does this have to do with marketing you would ask? How can a marketer help a small company escape the claws of the big companies? I have a few stories in my mind, like the Snapchat story for example. Back in 2013, Evan Spiegel turned down a bid of $3 billion made by Facebook, because he believed in his product. He wanted to develop it his way and he was clear on how to market it. Snapchat as of today is valued of $20 billion and still owned by Spiegel.

There is another favourite story of mine that will really show you how a simple marketing campaign can put a huge value on a new brand. This campaign was created by George Lois for Tommy Hilfiger in 1985 and helped his brand to become what it is now. A simple billboard on New York’s Times Square that says “The 4 great American designers for men are:” and continues with only the initials of three well established by then names (Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis and Calvin Klein) and Hilfiger’s initials at the bottom, who was pretty much unknown then. This suggests that he is as good as the rest and people believed it.

Hilfiger1

(source: georgelois.com)

In conclusion, I will summarise how I like to look at marketing by referring it to a classic Sci-Fi. I like to see marketing as the force used in Star Wars. It is only up to the marketers to chose what they will use the force for. Will they become a Jedi or a Sith. Of course, there will be the occasional Anakin Skywalker who will play for both sides, but the force will always be stronger on the light side. We should use that force and help those in need – the good ones that want to drive the world into a brighter future. I like to see my blog as a free tool that can help with marketing tips companies and people with such great ideas. Ideas, products and services that will help us build a better future for us and for generations to come. I do not doubt that not only Jedi, but also some Sith will take advantage of my free tips on how to use the force, but I also believe that the force will be stronger on the light side and will win over the dark side!

May the force be with you!

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