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Rethinking Marketing: Cait Lamberton

Cait Lamberton

Cait Lamberton
University of Pittsburgh

To have better marketing and a better world, we need to interrogate our understanding of what the “market” economy is—and to determine when the “market” economy holds or fails.

Our research, taken together, makes clear that many conventional assumptions about a market economy are flawed—in our current economy, there is weakening dominance of private ownership, significant government involvement, massive market inefficiencies, and self-interest is not the sole motivator of behavior. Further, competition in many major sectors is practically nonexistent (e.g., Google, Facebook, Amazon). 

What is a better way to think about our market? The currency now is data and information, which is being extracted from our purchases and digital behaviors. Consumers create these data, but they are not compensated for it. A better metaphor for this reality may be an extractive economy. 

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Extractive economies, which occur where a resource is being mined, provide some benefit to the area where the extraction occurs. These economies offer major growth opportunities, but also certain pathologies. For example, extractive economies such as oil boomtowns show high degrees of binge behaviors, such as binge drinking and eating. We see the same phenomena among always-connected consumers, who may consume (and produce) large amounts of digital content in a single consumption episode, but in excess of that sustainable to have a balanced life. 

Better metaphors allow us to better examine the consumer experience as it actually exists, to reconceptualize exchange in the reality of the system that we actually occupy. For example, topics such as charitable giving and subjective well-being can seem peripheral to marketing, but these are critical aspects of extractive economies. Just as nations that base their economy in extraction have to devote considerable efforts to ensuring the well-being and community health of the indigenous peoples whose lives are shaped by extractive infrastructure, we have a responsibility to attend to the well-being and social health of the “digital natives” from whom massive amounts of value are being gleaned. Just as extractive economies benefit from careful stewarding of their resources and long-term thinking, we should approach our research with an eye toward the dignity of consumers and effects over time, rather than taking a short-term or one-shot focus. If we do these things, we can do marketing that not only better reflects the exchange experience in the present economy, but also helps individuals in this economy to flourish in the long run.

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Cait Lamberton is Alberto I. Duran President's Distinguished Professor or Marketing, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.