The marketing system has come under fire from both ends of the political spectrum. On the one hand, some members of the Religious Right believe that marketers contribute to the moral breakdown of society when they present images of hedonistic pleasure and encourage the pursuit of secular humanism at the expense of spirituality and the environment. A coalition of religious groups called the National Religious Partnership for the Environment claims that gas-guzzling cars and other factors that cause climate change are contrary to Christian moral teachings about protecting people and the Earth.
On the other hand, some leftists argue that the same deceitful promises of material pleasure function to buy from people who would otherwise be revolutionaries working to change the system. According to this argument, the marketing system creates demand — demand that only its products can satisfy.
More than 50 years ago, the social critic Vance Packard wrote, “Large-scale efforts are being made, often with impressive success, to channel our unthinking habits, our purchasing decisions, and our thought processes by the use of insights gleaned from psychiatry and the social sciences.” The economist John Kenneth Galbraith charged that radio and television are important tools to accomplish this manipulation of the masses. Because consumers don’t need to be literate to use these media, repetitive and compelling communications can reach almost everyone. This criticism may even be more relevant to online communications, where a simple click delivers a world of information to us.
Some people charge that marketers arbitrarily link products to desirable social attributes, so they foster a materialistic society where what we own defines our value as a person. One influential critic even argued that the problem is that we are not materialistic enough: We do not sufficiently value goods for the utilitarian functions they deliver but instead focus on the irrational value of goods for what they symbolize. According to this view, for example, “Beer would be enough for us, without the additional promise that in drinking it we show ourselves to be manly, young at heart, or neighborly. A washing machine would be a useful machine to wash clothes, rather than an indication that we are forward-looking or an object of envy to our neighbors.”
How can marketers respond? A need is a basic biological motive; a want represents one way that society has taught us to satisfy the need. For example, thirst is a biological need. Marketers teach us to want Coca-Cola to satisfy that thirst rather than, say, goat’s milk. Thus, the need is already there; marketers simply recommend ways to satisfy it. A basic objective of marketing is to create awareness that needs exist, not to create needs. We have enough of those already.