Marketing and Democracy

  • The Conversation
  • Conversation Summary

In opening our conversation, we asked two questions: Do you think marketing by politicians and political parties helps or hurts democracy? Also, is the commercial marketplace, which tilts toward self-interest, more democratic than political institutions, which pursue the common good? Most readers agreed that political marketing - with all its flaws - helps democracy by legitimizing the political process and encouraging debate. One reader noted that Pakistan, where political information was once dominated by state-run television, is now open to competing sources of information such as candidate debates. "Our majority of less educated people is able to be more informed and is in a much [more] commanding position to decide about the right candidate."

Still, some readers wondered whether political marketing in less-developed countries might be more problematic given the limited Internet and other research tools available for voters to fact-check the claims of candidates. And of course there is no guarantee that democracy results in the best candidates being elected or best laws passed - do consumers make better choices than voters? Is the commercial marketplace more democratic than political institutions? The answers coalesced around the opinion that both are democratic, but the differences between the two arenas make them difficult to compare. For example, the political shelf life of an elected official in the US is two or four years, while a consumer product might be "voted out of office" in months. "As a result," said Peter Kaye, " I think that the commercial marketplace is much more democratic than political institutions, since consumers can vote for one brand today, and a different one the next, depending on which meets their needs the best."

Conversation Leads

  • John A. Quelch
    Lincoln Filene Professor of Business Administration
    Senior Associate Dean
  • Katherine Jocz
    Research Associate

Additional Resources

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.