Marketing and Democracy
Faculty Response (23 April 2008)
A number of discussants agreed that political marketing helps democracy by increasing the number of information sources and the amount of information available to voters. Do you think there should be truth-in-advertising standards for politicians, as there are for commercial products? Should there be regulations on the amount of advertising by candidates, political parties, businesses, unions, other special interest groups?
As some discussants noted, democracy is more than elections. Marketers, various government agencies, and not-for-profit organizations all provide goods and services to consumers and citizens. In some circumstances, e.g., disaster relief, they cooperate; in some, e.g., education, they compete. What lessons, if any, can leaders of these organizations take from each other so as to be more effective in serving people's needs?
In our new book Greater Good: How Good Marketing Makes for Better Democracy, we examined the impact of marketing on society. We concluded that contemporary marketing performs essential societal functions—and does so democratically. Also, that people would benefit if the realms of politics and marketing were informed by one another's best principles and practices. Some of the ideas provoke sharp reactions. We would like to get your thoughts.
Political candidates have seized on marketing techniques to promote candidates and sway public opinion. Well-funded candidates, political parties, and interest groups can overwhelm opponents with costly marketing and advertising—including negative, attack ads. But we propose that what's needed in politics is not less marketing but better marketing: focusing on current and emerging customer needs, developing product and service solutions, informing interested citizens about them and making them easily accessible. Do you think marketing by politicians and political parties helps or hurts democracy?
Good marketing delivers benefits that are very similar to the pillars of democracy: marketers give consumers information; they offer choice; they engage consumers; most seek to be inclusive; there is fair, mutual exchange with consumers; and subsequent consumption of goods and service satisfies needs and improves human welfare. A critical difference is that marketplace exchanges tilt toward pursuit of self-interest and democratic political exchanges, in the ideal, tilt toward pursuit of the common good. In practice, is the commercial marketplace more democratic than political institutions?
The Conversation is question- or topic-based dialogue between two conversation leads and our Centennial- site visitors. Every month or so, our conversation leads will pose a question to you, our visitors, to get your thoughts on specific issues in the world of business. The Conversation invites you to join the dialogue, and selections from these responses are made available online.
John A. Quelch
Lincoln Filene Professor of Business Administration
Senior Associate Dean
Professor John Quelch writes a blog on marketing issues, called Marketing KnowHow, for Harvard Business Online. And, if you like The Conversation, you may also enjoy What Do YOU Think?, an ongoing dialogue between Harvard Business School professor Jim Heskett and the readers of HBS Working Knowledge.