Student Question

  • How would you respond to the criticism "Marketing just adds unnecessary costs to the price of everything we buy?"
  • Should marketing be viewed as a set of activities performed by business and nonprofit organizations, or alternately as a social process?
  • Why is it important to make this distinction?

Expert Answers

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  • The purpose of marketing is to inform buyers of a product's existence, and to compel them to purchase it. In the case of a competitive market, such as food or automobiles, where many manufacturers are all selling essentially the same good, marketing helps to distinguish their products. While superficially they are the same as a competitor's, marketing a product can carve out a niche for a manufacturer, and appeal to various dimensions of human perception such as emotion or logic to establish a relationship between that perception and the good; for example, the clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch markets itself to "cool, young, fit" people; when consumers "buy into" this image, they reinforce the association and make it harder for other manufacturers to compete for the same dollars. Thus, marketing does have a real purpose that visibly increases the manufacturer's profit. However, the costs of marketing do not necessarily HAVE to be passed on to the consumer; this is a choice by the manufacturer. The argument is a false dilemma.
  • The perception of marketing as a "top-down" deliverance of advertisement from a business to the individual fails to recognize the complexity inherent in the consumer's purchasing choices. While it is true that some marketing does seek to create a market, all marketing must recognize the demographics of the market that it is targeting, and that market is influenced by a variety of factors that (should) inform the marketer. For example, there has been a noticeable shift in consumer desire for organic, renewable, or otherwise "green" products in the last 20 years; this was not initiated by ceaseless marketing of organics. As a desire makes itself known, and the market for associated products increases, marketers respond.
  • This distinction is important for at least two reasons;
  1. It emphasizes the fact that the market is, in many ways, in control of itself; we are not "forced" to buy products, and marketing does not occur in the absence of a market. Marketing responds to a desire to buy; if that desire is unwholesome to us, punishing the marketer will not make it go away.
  2. The exact definition of marketing is intangible, and as the reach of social media extends, it will become increasingly difficult to distinguish personal opinions from marketing material. This fact should encourage the development of critical thinking skills, and personal finance management, in academic education.

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