Friday, November 14, 2008

Is it always moral to push consumers to consume?

I am getting a lot more emails from retailers I have purchased from. These emails are offering all sorts of incentives for me to purchase. Now I haven't called this spam (I know there is a formal definition) because I don't really mind getting these emails from retailers I like. And if I do, I can always opt out.

But while I don't mind getting the emails, I'm wondering if it is moral for businesses to be doing this. As a marketer, I know exactly what is going on at these businesses and all others. There are teams of people who are looking at the macroeconomic trends and thinking about how they can get people to spend more. They may launch some products or services that are more appropriate given the times, but product development has a long lead time so, more often, businesses are looking at various incentives to increase consumption.

But should people be spending more now? Isn't excessive consumption how we got in this mess in the first place? Too many people buying houses they couldn't afford. Or buying houses they could afford and taking out mortgages they could not afford to fund a lifestyle they could not afford.

When marketing was less sophisticated, companies might have overtly tried to scare people (you need this product or else...) or make them feel guilty (Susie will be the only one without the new...) I bet many people would agree that such practices are immoral. You might call it predatory marketing. Well marketing is considerably more sophisticated today, but does that matter from a moral standpoint? Is it any less predatory?

Now the issue isn't so simple. We have a consumption driven economy. When people don't consumer, it hurts the economy. Badly.

So I don't know. But something feels a little wrong to me when I get all these emails.

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