I have waited a long time for this call for a special issue to come to fruition. I don’t see this just as a special issue, I see this as a change of conversation. In this way, I agree with Len Berry and others who contend, “The purpose of marketing is to offer a higher quality of life. Firms that do that are rewarded.” We should ask of ourselves, how can we help firms do that?
My thesis is that a deep understanding of complex, dynamic consumption practices is key to alleviating the world’s most important and intractable problems. If you look at all the world’s major problems, they either are triggered by—or implicate—the presence or absence of consumption. Moreover, in a world where technology is outpacing human adaptation, marketing can offer answers to the question of how we learn faster and govern smarter.
Considering the costly enterprise of doing rigorous research, shouldn’t we as academics ask ourselves: Is the value of what we have written and the time it took commensurate with our salaries? Or would we make more of a difference working in a soup kitchen?
Doing research to alleviate the world’s problems can feel difficult because we get intimidated by the scope of issues such as global waste, world poverty, and changing climates. However, small things can make big differences as they accumulate through systems. For example, I am currently trying to give up single-serving plastic water bottles, which we know are a major source of global waste. This turns out to be complicated and difficult. But by understanding consumers, and disrupting behavior in small ways, we can create good solutions. Marketers can give me what I need to get rid of those bottles.
Bike sharing is another example. As a practice, it may be changing environments for the better, but it also has unintended and sometimes negative consequences. For example, helmet use drops when bike sharing. Similar to buying single serving plastic water bottles, bike helmet use is a small thing, embedded in a changing, complex infrastructure.
Our challenge is to better understand the ramifications of such seemingly simple consumer practices in ways that are embedded, dynamic, and complex, and do not bifurcate consumption and production, but treat people as both producers and consumers. By embracing the complex and central role of consumption and the market world in global well-being, I know we can do research that helps answer how marketers can make a better world.Download Presentation
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