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The wrong side of Marketing – Dr. S Shyam Prasad

19 Dec, 2022.


There are things worse than death! Spend an evening as an insurance salesman, and you will understand what I mean. That was a remark made by Woody Allen. Why do people seem to dislike marketing?  Many researchers, in the last decade, have explored the dark side of marketing (Daunt & Greer, 2017). One of the reasons for aversion towards marketing, many researchers feel, is the increased amount of newer technologies being used by marketers lacking ethical considerations and ignorant of consumers’ feelings (Martin & Smith, 2008). Many consumers distrust marketing technologies and think that they are manipulative (Heath & Heath, 2008)

Researchers have examined the not-so-good side of marketing (Brady, Voorhees, & Brusco, 2012; Fisk, et al., 2010; Fullerton & Punj, 2004). The issue is so important that in 2017 it warranted the Journal of Marketing Management (JMM) to bring out a special issue on the dark side of marketing and aggregate the different controversies native to marketing.

Wrong side

The special issue of JMM contained six papers and three commentaries demonstrating the presence of the no-so-good side of marketing.  One of the papers discusses ambush marketing, a type of marketing where a brand encashes a major event without formerly being associated with it. The paper describes it as deviant behavior since it invites retaliation from the sponsors. Similarly, each of the papers describes some or the other such distasteful activities on the part of the marketers.

Most of us are familiar with markups and have heard about high markups by businesses. The presence of “discount houses” and large discounts offered by the retailers and higher discounts offered by the online retailers add to the above belief.

Have you realised that you need to add more salt than decades ago to your food to taste good? Well, it is not your taste that has changed, but the salinity of salt is low.

To increase the consumption of toothpaste, from brushing your teeth once a day, companies are suggesting brushing our teeth twice a day; as if this is not enough, some companies are advising us to brush our teeth after every meal.

For thousands of years (India being one of the oldest civilizations), Indians have flourished by eating Parathas, Purees, Kachoris, idlis, and dosas, to name a few, as breakfast. Some advertisements are suggesting that cornflakes are the best breakfast to keep us active throughout the day.

Another advertisement says that girls will throng you if you apply this perfume and yet another ‘Apply this cream, and you will become fairer in weeks’. Hidden Persuaders and The Status Seekers are two books that contain stories of marketing practices that incite people to buy things that they do not want. The author is Vance Packard, a well-known critic of marketing. Another author, Ralph Nader, wrote ‘Unsafe at Any Speed’, a book on automobiles to say that many vehicles are designed wanting in safety. 

The frequent exaggeration or misleading messages make people dislike marketing. One such misleading activity is ‘click baits’, which is a way of luring customers to see advertisements. Secondly, with the explosion of technology, there is a feeling of loss of privacy and intrusiveness of brands in our lives. Marketers are collecting information about us – the consumers – all time from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, or Google. They know more about us than we know ourselves. They hope to encash this knowledge to send the right message at the right time at the right place to motivate us to buy. In her book ‘No Logo’, Naomi Klein argues with evidence the cost of branding and false differentiation by marketers.

If I were to list the reasons for my not being a fan of marketing, they would be as follows:

Marketing is deceptive and misleading in nature.

  1. They change the culture of a place.
  2. They are intrusive and threaten privacy.
  3. They are irritating and waste our time.
  4. They neglect their impact on the environment (“diesel dupe” by Volkswagen).
  5. They increase the consumption of products due to commercial avarice.
  6. Marketers are willing to sell anything that sells with complete disregard to the societal health, E-cigarettes for example.


Is marketing good for society? Think again! The draconian picture of marketing drawn above has some substance to it. However, one should not forget a few contributions to marketing. It is the marketing concept that one needs to do better than the competitors that have resulted in products with new features, good service, and competitive prices. Marketing has created several thousands of jobs and has increased the living standards of many. Marketing has enabled us, during the COVID pandemic and at other times to get what we want at our doorsteps. 

However, in a study by Teresa Heath, Robert Cluley, and Lisa O’Malley (2017), they found that when consumers are faced with the “dominant, oppressive and inescapable force” of marketing, they evolve methods to avoid them. Many people feel that marketing “marketing speaks too loudly” and invades their privacy and expresses that they want to circumvent this “oppressive force”. One such practice I have developed is to completely avoid sensational headings in mobile apps since they are click baits or advertorials.

The unfavorable feelings, as discussed above, will lessen the marketing effectiveness (Badot & Cova, 2008). Therefore, it is wise on the part of marketers to consider the above apprehensions; it also makes marketing sense to do so (Sheth & Sisodia, 2005).

What can marketers do? Marketers need to realize that profit-making may be one of the goals of businesses, but it should not be an end in itself. Businesses should strive for the welfare of society, at the least. They exist due to society, and hence they would do good to keep society’s interest in focus (Prasad, 2010). To begin with, they should move away from deceptive and misleading advertisements and desist from those practices that consumers dislike.

(This blog can be discussed in Advance Marketing/Marketing Strategies/Consumer Behaviour and Advertisement classes)

Works Cited

  1. Badot, O., & Cova, B. (2008). The myopia of new marketing panaceas: the case for rebuilding our discipline. Journal of Marketing Management, 24((1-2)), 205-219. doi:10.1362/026725708X274000
  2. Brady, M. K., Voorhees, C. M., & Brusco, M. J. (2012). Service sweethearting: Its antecedents and customer consequences. Journal of Marketing, 76(2), 81-98. doi:10.1509/jm.09.0420
  3. Daunt, K. L., & Greer, D. A. (2017). The dark side of marketing: introduction to the special issue. Journal of Marketing Management, 33(15-16), 1231-1235. doi:10.1080/0267257X.2017.1382188
  4. Fisk, R. P., Harris, L. C., Keeffe, D. A., Daunt, K. L., Russell-Bennett, R., & & Wirtz, J. (2010). Customers behaving badly: A state of the art review, research agenda and implications for practitioners. Journal of Services Marketing, 24(6), 417-429. doi:10.1108/08876041011072537
  5. Fullerton, R. A., & Punj, G. (2004). Shoplifting as moral insanity: Historical perspectives on kleptomania. Journal of Macromarketing, 24(1), 8-16. doi:10.1177/0276146704263811
  6. Heath, T., & Heath, M. (2008). Journal of Marketing Management, 24((9-10)), 1025-1039. doi:10.1362/026725708X382037
  7. Heath, T., Cluley, R., & O’Malley, L. (2017). Beating, ditching and hiding: consumers’ everyday resistance to marketing. Journal of Marketing Management. doi:10.1080/0267257X.2017.1382554
  8. Martin, K. D., & Smith, N. C. (2008). Commercializing social interaction: The ethics of stealth marketing. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 27(1), 45-56. doi:10.1509/jppm.27.1.45
  9. Prasad, S. S. (2010). Non-Possessiveness and Ethical Business. aper presented in the National Seminar on Application of Non-possession in Jainism held at JVBU, Ladnun, Rajasthan. HereNow4U.
  10. Sheth, J., & Sisodia, R. (2005). Does Marketing Need Reform? Journal of Marketing, 69(4), 10-12.

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