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Is Marketing EVIL?

Updated: Oct 17

When I was younger and thinking about “what do I want to be when I grow up?” I saw myself becoming a veterinarian, or a doctor, or a biologist fighting for the environment. A bit older, my interests shifted (wasn’t so much into science anymore) but I knew I wanted to do something useful to society, something that had to do with helping others.


Another thing I knew was that I had no interest in working in marketing, or sales. The term “marketing” embodied everything I hated about capitalism: the promotion of a consumer and materialist culture, the pursuit of profit over purpose, the stimulation of our desire to buy, effectively turning us into mere “customers,” the creation of a media-saturated environment, forcing us to absorb a massive amount of information, manipulating our every thought and action without us even realizing.


Marketing, and by extension branding, meant using design, colors, patterns, positioning, to psychologically trick people into buying. It was what pushes you to buy food that is harmful to your health, to buy cigarettes, to make you vote for a certain political candidate that perhaps you wouldn’t have voted for if only you hadn't seen him on TV so much.


But first, what is marketing?




The term is a bit all-encompassing, but to put it simply, it designates any actions taken by a company to attract an audience and promote the buying and selling of a product or service. It ranges from creating a packaging that is attractive to the audience, to celebrity endorsement and creating billboard ads.


To influence consumer decisions, marketers observe, analyze and manage consumers’ behavior. They wield the science of persuasion to elicit an emotional reaction. So does that mean that marketing is evil (in the sense of a net negative to society)? That it is a harm to society and that we’d be better off without it?


But what if you are a business owner, and what you have to offer is something that is genuinely good, something that could really help others? What if you sell a product that does bring joy to people, or provide a service that increases their productivity? In that case, is it still wrong to use marketing to increase your product’s or service’s visibility?


What I learned early on from working with IconiQ, is that there is a difference between big businesses and companies that are solely focused on maximizing profits, and businesses that are purpose-driven. That there are businesses out there that are genuinely concerned about making a positive impact on their community, or even on the world. That there are businesses that want to fill gaps, and help meet the needs and wants of individuals & neighborhoods. If marketing can help them accomplish their mission, and tell more people about the good things they’re doing, then where's the wrong in that?


All in all, I came to realize that marketing is just a tool. And like any tool, it can be used for good and bad ends. What matters is–to what ends is it used? In fact, really good marketing doesn't even feel like marketing at all–it just feels like somebody is providing you with a solution to your problem.


So ditch the reflexive, anti-marketing judgment “Oh I hate marketing,” “marketing is evil,” “marketing doesn’t work on me,” (or maybe it’s just me and you’ve always thought marketing is the coolest thing) because marketing is here to stay whether you like it or not. So you might as well learn how it works, and use it for good purposes.


Remember in last week's post when I talked about how kindness and business are not incompatible, but in fact intricately connected? Well, just like there is room for kindness in business, there is room for humanness in marketing. In fact, there’s something called human-centered marketing. And it’s not just another industry jargon people throw around. It means something: it means treating people like – surprise! – people. It means that you can treat people as humans before customers in your marketing campaign. That effective marketing doesn’t necessarily have to reduce people to money-making factories. A human-centered marketing campaign is about creating a connection, forging long-lasting relationships–not just about increasing your number of “leads,” or “prospects.”


A year from now, your “customer” may be your friend. You might as well already start calling them by their name.


If you want to talk about how to incorporate ethical marketing into your business strategy, contact us here.