Seth Godin writes in a recent post: Is marketing evil? "I think it's evil to persuade kids to start smoking, to cynically manipulate the electoral or political process, to lie to people in ways that cause disastrous side effects.... Marketing is beautiful when it persuades people to get a polio vaccine or wash their hands before doing surgery.... Just like every powerful tool, the impact comes from the craftsman, not the tool.... For me, marketing works for society when the marketer and consumer are both aware of what's happening and are both satisfied with the ultimate outcome. I don't think it's evil to make someone happy by selling them cosmetics, because beauty isn't the goal, it's the process that brings joy....”
I like the analogy of tool and craftsman. The tribe is like a tool in the hand of a craftsman, it has a responsibility to do good. This is especially important with businesses that can potentially lead to dangerous situations such as alcoholic beverage companies. Consider Manchester United Football Club. Manchester United has eleven official sponsors, including Smirnoff and Budweiser. Consider the differences in their press releases: “Two number one brands unite in Asia Pacific, as SMIRNOFF vodka becomes official spirits sponsor and official responsible drinking partner of Manchester United. Diageo have launched a two-year partnership with Manchester United for its SMIRNOFF vodka, in Asia Pacific. The partnership will be activated with a through-the-line campaign 'Spirit of Champions' later this year. The theme of the campaign reflects the behaviour and determination required to be the best and stay at the top your game. A key element of the campaign will also communicate the responsible drinking message under the theme 'United against drink driving'.” At least from a public relations perspective there is an indication of a responsibility.
Budweiser takes a less responsible approach. “A combination of art and science, the Budweiser brewing process uses only the finest natural ingredients and time-honoured methods passed down through five generations of the Busch family. Budweisers commitment to quality is evident not only in the beer itself, but also in its innovative advertising and high profile sports sponsorships that promote the brands contemporary image to adult beer drinkers all over the world.” Except for the slight insert of “adult” there is little indication of responsibility. To be fair, this is once sample out of many commercials and advertisements.
Marketing comes with a massive responsibility. A business does not exist in an island. Partners, suppliers and consumers are interconnected. Tribes are smart, and as Seth Godin points out, they use social media to express themselves in powerful ways. Manchester United cannot take on sponsors in a vacuum. Nike sells shoes for over $100, pays athletes millions and at the same time subcontracts production to sweatshops where people are treated like animals. Is this good business? Would you pay a few dollars more to feel good about the people who make your shoes? Many people will. Coffee shops sell coffee for several dollars a cup but buy from distributors who institutionalize poverty of the coffee bean growers, yet Starbucks has moved to fair trade coffee. Marketing is not evil, it comes with a responsibility.