Writing Sample - MARKETING, MATERIALISM AND INJURIOUS CONSUMPTION IN U.S. CULTURE

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Essay on marketing rights and responsibilities completed in my graduate coursework (10 pages).

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Writing Sample - MARKETING, MATERIALISM AND INJURIOUS CONSUMPTION IN U.S. CULTURE

  1. 1. Marketing, Materialism and Injurious Consumption in United States Culture<br />Submitted By: <br />Tanya Nwamkpa<br />Market Entry Strategy Project in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for <br />MKTG 5550 Spring 2011<br />Dr. Lou E. Pelton<br />29 April 2011<br />Marketing, Materialism, and Injurious Consumption in United States Culture<br />It has been said the United States is the most consumer-oriented society in the world. We have become a mass consumption culture with a strong focus on consumption and acquisition of goods – many of which can be deemed by some as excessive and unnecessary. What is it that drives this acquisition of excess? Many experts in the field of consumer behavior believe that marketing is ultimately responsible for the materialistic values of modern American society, and they may be right. Research has shown that the long term effect of advertising encourages mass consumption and, in turn, materialism, injurious over-consumption, and the negative consequences accompany them. This, of course, is a debatable concept. After all, we as consumers do have minds of our own; we are not just pawns of the marketing industry waiting for direction on what to buy and when to buy it. It may be that marketing simply reflects the values already inherent in society, but if marketing does advocate materialism and injurious consumption, we must determine what responsibility marketers have to remedy the problem.<br />Consumerism, Materialism and Injurious Consumption<br />Throughout my research I have come across many definitions of materialism, but the term is best summarized as the belief that increased consumption leads to increased satisfaction in life. This unfortunately is a mindset that many Americans in have today which casts dark a shadow on society’s overall values. Russell W. Belk, an expert in the field of consumer behavior, has concluded that the main characteristics of materialists are possessiveness, non-generosity, and envy. However, to really understand the concept of materialism and how it relates to marketing, the work of Marsha L. Richins and Scott Dawson might be a better example. They devised a conceptual model that attempts to break down the core reasoning behind materialistic behavior into three value orientations: acquisition as the pursuit of happiness, possession defined success, and acquisition/possession centrality. Although each value orientation discussed is important to understanding the behavior of materialistic individuals, possession defined success is the orientation that best relates to the effects of marketing and mass consumption. <br />In her article on materialism and consumer behavior, Professor Judy Graham provides an analysis of Richins and Dawson’s model. According to Graham, the possession defined success orientation highlights the fact that materialists see possessions as a means by which they can define themselves; therefore, they seek to acquire things that bolster their social appearance. They are prone to comparing themselves with others, which often leaves them with negative feelings of envy, inferiority, and discontent. These individuals attempt to rid themselves of these feeling through the mass consumption of goods, such as brand name or high end product (Graham 249). The individual ramifications of such behavior are evident. Research has shown that individuals with such a need for material satisfaction have reduced satisfaction with life, and have been known to show negative personality traits such as non-generosity, possessiveness, and envy. <br />Injurious consumption is also considered a negative consequence of materialism due to possession defined success. Injurious consumption is defined as consumption that affects the ability to fulfill other needs such as financial needs, health needs, and life sustaining needs. A materialist could be so involved in maintaining a certain image that he or she continues to consume in an effort to feel whole. This could make them neglect or abandon relationships and other life responsibilities, much like an addition would. For instance, imagine a young woman who has established herself in a lucrative career which has afforded her a life of luxury and a circle of friends who maintain the same type of lifestyle. Now imagine this woman is laid off from her job and forced to take on work for a fraction of her previous salary. She soon realizes that she will no longer be able to maintain her lifestyle, but she has become accustomed to acquiring things to maintain that an image of wealth. Soon she begins to envy and resent her friends, and to stave off the negative feelings she is having she continues to purchase things she can no longer afford. Driven by her desire for material possessions, she accumulates an insurmountable amount of credit card debt and her health and personal relationships with begin to suffer. This example illustrates how materialism and injurious consumption can go hand in hand and lead to reduced quality of life. <br />Smoking, alcohol abuse, and poor diet are examples of injurious consumption, since each of these activities are extremely detrimental to a consumer’s health. How does marketing relate to all of this?<br />How Marketing Influences Consumers’ Consumption Behavior<br /> It has been said that marketing and advertising encourage a pattern of over-consumption by creating consumer needs. The harshest critics of marketing practices even go so far to say that marketing manipulates consumers into thinking that materialism is a “value” that they should adopt (Zinkhan 1). These arguments are valid; after all, the core goal of marketing is to encourage people to buy, consume, and then buy some more. <br />The most successful marketing campaigns do rely on a good understanding of psychological reasoning behind consumer purchase behavior, and many marketers use their understanding to play off of the needs and vulnerabilities in consumers. The hierarchy of needs theory of consumer behavior devised by Abraham Maslow is a subject that every student of business and marketing has probably studied extensively. This model of consumer behavior is broken down by the core needs required by humans to sustain a fulfilling life. Two of the important needs that Maslow discusses are the need for esteem, as in the need for prestige, social status, and superiority and the need for belongingness, which includes the need for affiliation and group acceptance. This model, especially the aforementioned needs, has served as a guide for understanding consumer behavior and, in turn, developing persuasive marketing strategies. For example an advertising agency could develop a campaign based on Maslow’s theory on the need for belongingness. The ads might show a group of seemingly affluent young people using the featured product and looking down on their peers who are using an “inferior” brand. An individual in this products target market might see these ads and feel inferior because they are not using the brand featured in the advertisement. This same individual then goes out and buys the brand featured in the ad as a symbol of status and as an attempt to belong to that aspirational reference group featured in the advertisement. In a case like this, the advertising agency has achieved its goal of this getting this individual to switch from a competitor to their brand, but the ethical implications of such a campaign are questionable. It is easy to see how such marketing can lead to materialistic values. <br />Marketing that focuses on the need for esteem can also lead to materialistic values. In their book Consumer Behavior: Building Marketing Strategy Hawkins and Mothersbaugh provide an example of Andre Hank, a man who lost everything he had and ended up homeless after maintaining a full-time job and a family for several years. After some time, Hank was able to rent a small hotel room and buy food for himself off of a meager income. However, what he was most proud of was being able to save up and purchase a pair of Nike running shoes. Hank could have easily gone out and purchased inexpensive shoes at a local thrift store and bought something more practical with the money he saved. However, being able to buy the Nike brand as symbol of him becoming a member of normal society again was more important than anything. Nike is known for advertisements that feature celebrities, sports stars, and aspirational figures that society generally looks up to desires to emulate. It is safe to conclude that Nike’s marketing efforts greatly influenced Hank’s materialistic desire to own a brand of shoes he thought would define and be a visible symbol of his success (30). <br />In regards to injurious consumption, marketing definitely plays a large role in influencing consumer behavior, and in some cases some consumers are targeted more than others. Studies have shown that there are disproportionally more billboard advertisements for liquor in low-income, ethic neighborhoods than in neighbors populated by mostly Caucasians (Lee and Kwate 21). It is well known that such neighborhoods are riddled with alcohol abuse and the negative effects accompany it. It is hard to say whether the over-consumption of alcohol in low-income communities is the direct result of the billboard marketing or not, but the intent to influence the behavior of this targeted segment is certainly clear. The tobacco industry has also been under fire for its unethical attempts to encourage the consumption of its products. The devastating effects of tobacco are evident in the increasing number of tobacco-related deaths in the United States and all over the world every year. Although cigarette advertising is not as visible as it was in past decades, tobacco companies are still spending billions of dollars a year on advertising, and it is still having a significant role on society. Close to two thousands adults begin smoking on a regular basis per day, but the statistics for children and teens under the age of eighteen are even more alarming with over one thousand consumers in this group begin smoking on a daily basis per day (“Smoking and Tobacco Use”). <br />A recent study that was published in the journal Pediatrics states that R J Reynolds’ campaign for their new Camel No. 9 brand of cigarettes resonated especially well with teen girls (Szabo). These ads appeared in magazines such as Glamour and Vogue, which have a relatively large teenage audience, and they featured bright colors, girly themes, and showcased the product’s sleek hot pink packaging. The tobacco giant maintained that its marketing was not intended to target teenagers and pulled magazine advertising shortly after, but the damage had already been done. This brings us to a very important point. Many times injurious consumption and materialism are learned behaviors that stem from childhood experiences. <br />In her book entitled Born to Buy economist, Juliet Schor, states, “Contemporary American tweens and teens have emerged as the most brand-oriented, consumer-involved, and materialistic generations in history.” This is a bold statement, but research has shown it does have a ring of truth. In fact, Schor goes to cite the results of a survey of youth from seventy cities in the U.S. which indicated that 75 percent of children from first grade to age twelve (tweens) aspire to be rich, and 61 percent would like to be famous (13). Children today are certainly more brand conscious than in past. I recently accompanied a friend on a grocery shopping trip with her eight-year-old son. During a walk down the breakfast cereal aisle, my friend selected a bag of a store brand chocolate cereal similar to well-known national brand. The eight-year-old grabbed the bag out of the shopping cart stating that he did not like this cereal. “But this is your favorite; it’s just like the kind you eat at home all the time,” my friend said in disbelief. Her son’s response to this was, “No, I want Cocoa Puffs!” as he threw the bag on the ground. Maybe it was the familiarity with the cartoon spokesperson for the brand or perhaps he was able to conclude on his own that the store brand was inferior. Either way, it was clear that this child had been influenced by the image that General Mills has portrayed for this particular brand of cereal. <br />Children, of course, are not born materialistic; it is a behavior that is learned. They are constantly bombarded with commercial messages, whether it is on the television, on the internet, at the movies, in school, or on playgrounds. These messages are intended to influence children in ways such as making sure they know what the best toy to request for Christmas is this year or what the best brand of clothing to wear is to make sure they fit in with the popular crowd at school. The issue of childhood obesity and the effect marketing has on the over-consumption of unhealthy food is also a topic that has been studied extensively. Fast food giants like Burger King and McDonald’s regularly implement programs that reward children for good grades or good conduct with food that is bad for their overall health and advertisements continue to lure them into consuming sugary snack foods with bright colors and easily identifiable cartoon characters. Over the years, kids have also gained a stronger influence on the purchase decisions of their parents – even for the purchase of big-ticket items such as automobiles. For example, research has shown that kids influence up to sixty-two percent of family SUV and minivan purchases per year (Schor 19). It is no wonder that television networks that cater to children like Nickelodeon draw in advertisers for a wide variety of products and brands, particularly Ford Motor Co, Target, and Embassy Suites. <br />Marketing and the media do play major roles in encouraging materialism and over consumption in children, but ultimately parents and adults have the power to control their behavior. Unfortunately, lack of time spent with children elicits “guilt power” and marketers often use this to their full advantage when over-worked and over scheduled parents are forced to rely on the television to be the babysitter or teacher. When parents continually give in to the requests and desires of their children, they foster a pattern of materialistic thinking and over-consumption that could potentially carry over into adulthood. <br />So what are the consequences of the materialism and injurious consumption brought on by marketing? The individual effects of injurious consumption can be quite dire. As previously discussed there can be psychological effects that can affect one’s self-concept and personality, but there are many other effects that are worth mentioning. The over-consumption of tobacco products, drugs and alcohol can lead to addiction, poor health, and potentially the loss of life and the over indulgence in unhealthy foods can lead to significant health problems. Furthermore, the materialistic acquisition of goods can lead to significant increases in consumer debt, bankruptcy, and financial distress. The societal ramifications of over-consumption and materialism can be just as dire; the constant pursuit of more and better products can have a very negative effect on the environment. After all, most products that are consumed eventually need to be disposed of; therefore, unnecessary increases in consumption directly affect the amount of waste produced by consumers. Additionally, the modern trend of upgrading to bigger and better vehicles and even acquiring multiple vehicles per household results in the over-consumption of fuel and contributes to smog and air pollution. In these cases, materialism and over-consumption contributes to the destruction of natural resources.<br />Marketing Ethical Rights and Responsibilities <br />How much responsibility do marketers have to protect consumers and/or deter them from destructive consumption patterns? Consumerists and critics of advertising blame marketing for the destruction of cultural values and waste of resources that result from their encouragement of extravagant over consumption of goods. Therefore, their general belief is that since marketing is part of the problem, marketers should take an active role in the solution (Warne 12). There are, however, two sides to every argument. As mentioned previously, most consumers are fully able to make responsible decisions about their consumption behavior, regardless of the commercial messages they are exposed to. Although marketing may play a large role in encouraging materialism and mass consumption, it in no way forces people to behave in a certain way. This is certainly the viewpoint of Dr.James B.Twichell. In his book on consumerism entitled Lead us into Temptation, Twitchell makes a very strong point when he writes that “not only are we willing to consume, not only does consuming make us happy, but getting and spending is what gives our lives order and purpose (20).” Basically he is stating that consumers consume of their own free will because it gives them a means by which they can control, create, and change their own lives. According to this logic, maybe a little materialism is not quite so bad. Viewpoints such as this one support the stance that mass consumption marketing simply reflects the current culture of society.<br /> However, what if marketing truly is to blame for the materialistic culture and over-consumption in society? Some of the ways in which advertising can help balance things out are through social marketing and ethical marketing strategies. Social marketing is the application of marketing strategies to alter or create behaviors in order to have a positive effect on targeted individuals or society as a whole. The American Legacy Foundation sponsors Thetruth.com which is a campaign that raises awareness about and attempts to discourage the use of tobacco products. Also, popular liquor brands such as Smirnoff regularly run ad campaigns that encourage consumers to “drink responsibly.” In fact, many liquor advertisements depict designated drivers and those who do not drink and drive as a heroes, which can greatly influence consumers’ need for esteem and cause a positive change in behavior. Another example of social marketing that can help is when environmental groups like Greenpeace seek to change consumption behavior by emphasizing the negative effects trash, pollution, and over-consumption have on wildlife and our nation’s natural resources. <br />In addition to social marketing, maintaining a code of ethics for marketing practices can also play an essential role in decreasing materialism and injurious consumption. Marketers should examine their marketing strategies that are directed towards children to ensure that their health and well-being is not put in jeopardy. Also, campaigns that play on the fears and insecurities of consumers by making them feel inferior based on products they use or brands they purchase may be should be reviewed for ethical implications. Furthermore, in regards to product, it would be beneficial if manufacturers had proper quality control systems in place to ensure that consumer products are of the highest quality and maintain longevity. Planned obsolescence is the purposeful design of a product so that it eventually becomes obsolete and requires replacement. Unethical practices such as this only contribute to materialism and over-consumption. Finally, marketers can also help by “going green,” through the development of packaging that can be easily disposed of or recycled or creating products that have multiple uses. These are just examples of how marketing can be a part of the solution, not just the problem.<br />In conclusion, materialism, or the focus on acquisition of goods as a means to achieve happiness in life and detrimental over-consumption are issues that are very prevalent in modern U.S. society. Although it is clear that marketing plays a significant role in promoting mass consumption through the use of research on consumer behavior to develop strategies that manipulate consumers, it is unfair to blame marketing entirely for consumerism. We must also consider the fact that consumers have to take responsibility their own actions, as well as the actions of those who are under their care and supervision. Marketers can certainly make a difference by engaging in social marketing and enforcing ethical standards in their practices, but the only way change will come to pass is if we as consumers also do our part to achieve the goal of a less materialistic society. <br />References<br />Burroughs, James E., and Aric Rindfleisch. "Materialism and Well-Being: A Conflicting <br />Values Perspective." Journal of Consumer Research 29.3 (2002): 348-370. <br />Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.<br />Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2009). Smoking and Tobacco Use Facts <br />Sheet. Web. 1 Dec. 2010. <br />Elliott, Stuart. “McDonald’s Ending Promotion on Jackets of Children’s Report Cards.” <br />NY Times (18 January 2008). Web. 10 Sept. 2010.<br />Graham, Judy F. "Materialism and Consumer Behavior: Toward a Clearer <br />Understanding." Journal of Social Behavior & Personality 14.2 (1999): 241-258. <br />SPORTDiscus. EBSCO. Web. 8 Dec. 2010<br />Hosmer, LaRue T. The Ethics of Management. Illinois: Irwin, 1987. Print.<br />Laczniak, Gene R., and Patrick E. Murphy. Marketing Ethics. Lexington, MA: Lexinton <br />Books, 1985. Print. <br />Lee, Tammy H. and Naa OyoA. Kwate. “Ghettoizing Outdoor Advertising: Disadvantage <br />and Ad Panel Density in Black Neighborhoods.” Journal of Urban Health 84.1 <br />(2007): 21- 31. Springer Link. Web. 12 Sept. 2010.<br />Liao, Jiangqun, and Lei Wang. "Face as a mediator of the relationship between material <br />value and brand consciousness." Psychology & Marketing 26.11 (2009): 987-<br />1001. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.<br />Schor, Juliet. Born To Buy: The Commercialized Child and the new Consumer Culture. <br />New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.<br />Szabo, Liz. “Study: Camel No. 9 cigarette ads appeal to teen girls.” USA Today (15 <br />May 2010). Web. 20 Sept. 2010.<br />Twitchell, James B. Lead Us Into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism. <br />New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. Print. <br />Warne, Colston E. "Advertising--A Critic's View." Journal of Marketing 26.4 (1962): 10-<br />14. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. Web. 15 Nov. 2010.<br />Zinkhan, George M. "From the Editor: ADVERTISING, MATERIALISM, AND QUALITY <br />OF LIFE." Journal of Advertising June 1994: 1+. Communication & Mass Media <br />Complete. EBSCO. Web. 8 Nov. 2010.<br />

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