Social Responsibility, Consumerism, and the Marketing Concept

Topics: Marketing, Business, Business ethics Pages: 15 (4738 words) Published: March 20, 2013
Robert D. Winsor, Loyola Marymount University
This paper compares the often-criticized "selling orientation" or "selling concept" with the commonly-praised "societal marketing concept "from the perspectives of consumer rationality and persuasibility. It is suggested that both orientations view consumers as relatively irrational and as easily prone to manipulation by marketers. The implications of this similarity are explored from the perspectives of consumerism and social responsibility.

Critics of marketing have consistently attacked the discipline for discounting consumers' intelligence and capacity for rational choice and for deliberately confounding consumers in their efforts to make rational, informed, unbiased, and free economic choices. At the same time, societal trends have pushed U.S. businesses in the direction of increasing concern for social issues and attention to long-run consumer welfare. The aforementioned criticisms and pressures for increasing social responsibility are largely driven by the same social paradigms and constituents. Yet, it is noteworthy that the ultimate result of an expanded social responsibility of business is the concomitant diminishment of free consumer choice. Moreover, this obstruction of consumer discretion is the inevitable consequence of presumptions of consumer irrationality.

Thus, while groups such as consumerists have often criticized marketers explicitly for rejecting notions of consumer rationality, these same groups and sentiments have forcefully promoted the social responsibility of business and the societal marketing concept as advancements in business thought and practice. As a result, contradictions can be seen to exist within the consumerist agenda, and are apparent (but unacknowledged) in the "societal marketing concept" and calls for increasing the responsibility of business toward social issues and concerns. The goal of this paper is to expose these contradictions and to elaborate upon their implications for business and society in general. THE EVOLUTION OF THE MARKETING CONCEPT

In January of 1960, the marketing discipline entered a new age. In this year, we were presented with no ground-breaking theory, no pioneering methodology, no brilliant adaptation of another discipline's construct, and no monumental grant. We were, however, given something we would come to treasure much more highly than any of these. We were provided a raison d'être and a philosophical foundation.

It was on this date that the Journal of Marketing published an article by Robert Keith (1960) entitled "The Marketing Revolution." And, since its publication, marketers have been able to feel justified in believing that their efforts were not only indispensable, but that they have been instrumental in bringing about sweeping improvements in the evolution of business practice.

Although the revolution described by Keith has been tamed to become the "evolution" of the marketing concept, and the generalizablity of the evolution it described has been questioned by some (e.g. Fullerton, 1988), the transformation in American business described by Keith's model has nonetheless served as a source of explanation and justification for marketing academicians. The "post-evolution" marketers have been lent a degree of dignity and a sense of purpose which was conspicuously lacking before. Prior to this date, marketers were perceived to be at best superfluous, and at worst dishonest or unscrupulous. Not that the average citizen considers marketing in any different light today, but the belief in an evolution of the marketing concept has allowed the academic marketing community a certain degree of self-respect.

In his article, Keith described four "eras" or periods of thought and practice through which his organization, The Pillsbury Company, progressed. Keith believed that these eras were characteristic of most businesses...

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