Archive for Ethics

Hillary Clinton & The Marketing of Politicians

Politicians have always been motivated by a desire for power. Not so long ago, though, there were many of them who seemed to realize that that power could be used to influence people, to change their minds, to inspire them to noble (and sometimes ignoble) deeds and endeavours.  Gandhi, Churchill, De Gaulle, Kennedy, Mandela, they left their countries, and the world, a better place, often placing their careers or even their lives at risk.

The last few decades have seen the application of marketing concepts and tools to politics. Politicians have been turned into ‘products’, to be designed based upon the attitudes and beliefs of a”centrist majority” of the population. Few of them still tell us what they honestly believe, and almost none appear to have a vision grander than staying in power.

Even Boris Yeltsin, who brought a modicum of democracy to Russia, was desperate enough in his re-election attempt to hire a group of American consultants. Their focus group research showed that Yeltsin needed to add energy to his image and appeal to youth, which led to the incredible sight of Yeltsin cavorting on stage during a pop music concert. He did win the election.

This whole trend is now approaching the level of a farce, with Hillary Clinton jumping onto the ‘user-generated content’ bandwagon, inviting viewers to choose her campaign theme song.  Adrants has recommended the Darth Vader theme.

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Bono, Bill Gates and Social Marketing

The marketing of good causes took a huge leap with the creation of Red by Bono and Bobby Shriver. Products and services will qualify for the “Red” stamp or appellation when they give some of their profit towards giving anti-AIDS medicines in Africa. The Red Manifesto explains:

You buy (Red) stuff. We get the money, buy the pills and distribute them. They take the pills, stay alive and continue to take care of their families and contribute socially and economically in their communities.

Essentially, Red offers ordinary people the opportunity to make a difference in a way that is easy and accessible. I think Bono is making a big difference with this creative approach, using his biggest resource – his fame – to mobilize resources from the wide audience that knows and trusts him.

If Bono’s key strength is his ability to reach out to millions of people, then Bill Gates key strength is his ruthless ability to strategically destroy his opponents. Thankfully, after years of doing this in business, he has turned his attention to the opponents of humanity – hunger and disease. The Gates Foundation is run like a business, with clear measurable objectives, intelligent strategies and high-quality execution, all backed by the Gates fortune.

For me, there is a strong personal lesson in this. I ask myself, what change do I want to make, what cause matters to me and what strength, ability or resource can I bring to bear on the problem? Most of us aren’t Bono or Gates, but we can make a difference too.

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Kaavya Viswanathan & the Marketing of Art

Some folks think that "marketing" means the act of telling people about a product or service. So advertising, posters, sponsorship – these things are "marketing".

Those of us in the field like to think that "marketing is business" – the entire process of figuring out what customer segments to serve, what need to fulfil, how to design a product or service offering and of course, how to tell prospective customers about it – now that's marketing.

"Art" on the other hand, is supposed to be the inspired creation of an individual who has his own story to tell, inspired only by his inner muse. Focus groups, "book packagers" and the like shouldn't have a role to play in the creation of true art.

This is why the whole Kaavya Viswanathan story about a young debutant author who was caught plagiarizing and had hired a book packager to "shape" her book, has gotten so much negative publicity. Anybody remember Milli Vanilli?


Clearly, the public expects a certain authenticity from works of art, even though they are viable only if they also entertain. There is an important lesson here for marketeers because customers are going to punish brands and products that fail the test of authenticity. More on this later.

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Marketing & Social Responsibility

Farrukh Naeem from the UAE writes about social responsibility in business. Some of his thought-provoking questions are:

"Does a tobacco company’s lung cancer funding make cigarettes healthier?"

"Does a brewery’s TV spot against drunk-driving reduce alcoholism?"

"Does an offshore oil company’s documentary on marine life, save it?"

 "…are we in advertising just to earn money, no matter what we end up selling? "
These questions are immensely important because in this age of instant gratification, it's all too easy to lose sight of values and ethics in our pursuit of wealth.   

There is a finer point to be made here. Some kinds of marketing activities are obviously unethical. What about the Milli Vanilli type of "product fabrication"? There's no doubt that people who bought Milli Vanilli albums were attracted by the photogenic dancing duo who represented the "package" and undoubtedly enjoyed the music, but their reaction to the truth demonstrated that people don't like being misled.

Food for thought for many of the edgier marketing campaigns today. 

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The collision of Art, Politics and Marketing

The pop group Milli Vanilli were one of the first known “manufactured for a market” acts, in which a music producer assembled a group of talented musicians and singers and got them to create songs which were lip-synched by a couple of talented dancers. The audience was not meant to see beyond the package represented by the two guys dancing and ostensibly singing on stage.

Spinning Boris, the 2003 film starring Jeff Goldblum, tells the story of a group of American “political consultants” who use marketing techniques (including the much-maligned focus group) to re-package former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and turn around his election campaign.

It’s one thing to create a fake music act, quite another to create a fake political act – the latter has serious implications. Will the politician continue the act, constantly polling the masses and giving them what they want (as in the US) or will he revert to his true self after the election? In any event, I think most people would prefer authentic leaders who truly believe in their message. But how are we to tell?

On a happier note, the Real Milli Vanilli album Moment of Truth, featuring the genuine singers, spawned 3 hit singles.

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