In the past 24 hours, how many ads have you seen? What are those ads for? Soft drinks? Clothing? Electronics?
And how many of those things do you need? I mean really.
If you take any introductory marketing course, one of the first things you learn is the history of the marketing discipline. With the start of the industrial revolution, we entered the production orientation era of marketing, which is all about creating high quantities. An illustrative example of this is Henry Fords model T. Henry Ford only made one car, and only made it in one colour. Ford is famously quoted saying that people can have “any colour car they want, so long as it’s black”.
After that came the sales orientation era, or as I like to call it the “Mad Men” era. This is when competition began to increase, and companies had to start actively selling products to consumers, persuading them to buy certain products. From there we have moved toward marketing orientation era, where marketers really started gathering information about people, and finally to relationship marketing, where the focus is to really to keep existing customers, as it is far easier than making new ones.
Generally this is the evolution of marketing over the past 200 years, though some firms even now are still focused in the production era for instance, the overall ideas in marketing are along this line. All these eras are working towards one goal: To sell things to consumers. Whether it is a “take it or leave it” approach, or a “what do you need exactly, we will get it for you” the end goal is still generally the same.
Before saying anything else I want to state clearly: Marketers are not all bad people trying to trick you out of your money. But not all the things they are selling are things we need, or sometimes even things we really want. And when we buy things we don’t need (or want, I am not trying to make you a puritan) there are often negative consequences on the environment, on less fortunate individuals and sometimes ourselves. Think cigarettes, soft drinks, cars, and of course clothing. For an excellent, but of course old, refresh on the negatives of consumerism, feel free to watch this classic video:
When we have a force as powerful and well developed as marketing, working to get us to buy things we don’t want, or need, there should be an equal and opposite counter force to help us make the decisions that we actually want to make.
The idea of demarketing is to discourage demand for a product. Currently these kinds of measures have been used in the realm of health, for products such as cigarettes and soft drinks, and other healthy foods. But what about for environmental reasons. Almost all products have some sort of negative environmental footprints, so really demarketing anything would be a win for the environment.
So what kinds of things are being done?
Patagonia: Don’t Buy This Jacket
On Black Friday, one of the biggest shopping days in the USA, the outdoor clothing brand printed a full page ad with a picture of their jacket. However, the ad encourages it’s customers that unless they really a need a jacket, then they should not bother buying theirs.
A network of campaigns across North America with the goal of stopping the sale of bottled water on University campuses.
Although I know it is unlikely that demarketing will ever become an “era”, in order to reduce waste and to keep our planet functioning despite the growing population, it is important that the field of demarketing continues to grow and become stronger.
Alison Carlyle is a #forever student with an environmental focus. In the fall she will be headed to the University of Brighton to continue her education in social marketing. Follow her onTwitter or LinkIn with her.