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What Exactly Is Marketing and Public Policy?

What Exactly Is Marketing and Public Policy?

J. Craig Andrews, Scot Burton, Gregory T. Gundlach, Ronald Paul Hill, Jeremy Kees, Richard G. Netemeyer and Kristen L. Walker

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Beginning marketing scholars, and those in related disciplines, may express a strong interest in contributing to the marketing and public policy field, yet may wonder,

“What exactly is marketing and public policy?”
“How do I get involved?
“How does my research fit in?”

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There are many reasons for these questions, including perhaps a desire to right a wrong, to protect consumers, or to address general frustrations with society or market limitations. Perhaps it is due to getting a “taste” of the interesting topics and sessions at the annual AMA Marketing and Public Policy Conference, yet lacking an in-depth study of the field in doctoral programs. Or perhaps these issues have been studied, but from a related but different discipline (e.g., public health, communications, technology, economics, psychology, philosophy, law). Without specific knowledge or immersion in marketing and public policy, it is tempting to simply include a generic nod in a manuscript to implications for unnamed “public policy makers” and ship it off to the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing (JPP&M). Thus, the purpose of this AMA Research Curation is to share what we feel is meant by “policy,” “public policy,” and “marketing and public policy” for those interested in our field. These policy areas will be expanded and applied specifically in how JPP&M promotes well-being on the individual, societal, and environmental level. In doing so, we discuss the role of key parties and policy (e.g., federal and international agencies, self-regulation, nonprofits, society, company policies, personal ethics) involved in the marketing and public policy process, offer JPP&M application examples, and share ideas for developing research that contributes to the marketing and public policy discipline.

Policy, Public Policy, and Marketing and Public Policy

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “policy” as “a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by a government, party, business, or individual.” This deliberate course of action or set of principles helps guide decisions and achieve intended outcomes. In turn, “public policy” can be defined generally as “a system of laws, regulatory measures, courses of action, and funding priorities concerning a given topic promulgated by a governmental entity or its representatives…. A major aspect of public policy is law” (Kilpatrick 2000). As such, laws are a system of rules created and enforced by a government entity. Over the years, JPP&M articles on public policy usually come in the form of addressing one or more of the following general areas: problems, processes, policies, procedures, and/or protocols (Stewart 2014). Thus, research has served to describe problems (e.g., addiction, poor nutrition, pandemics, poverty, mental health, student debt), processes (e.g., changes in laws or society such as stricter online privacy laws or legalization of cannabis), policies (e.g., environmental marketing guides), procedures (e.g., different deceptive ad copy testing methods), and/or protocols (rules or standards; e.g., Food & Drug Administration [FDA] prescription drug/vaccine approval, Department of Justice [DOJ]/Federal Trade Commission [FTC] merger guidelines). How marketing and related disciplines can help address these issues is an important aspect of JPP&M contributions. Questions raised in the study of public policy might include the following:

  • What types of situations might justify intervention by federal agencies?
  • How might public policy be designed to address societal concerns and support principles of social justice?
  • How can marketing research positively influence firm policies (e.g., input on how firms approach diversity, equity, and inclusion policies beyond that of federal agency requirements)? And what might be the implications for consumer–firm or consumer–brand relationships?
  • What kinds of policy changes or reforms might promote the goals of society (e.g., economic efficiency, free exchange, fairness)?

Marketing and public policy traditionally represents one of four areas: (1) effects of public policy on firms’ marketing practices, (2) effects of public policy on consumers and society, (3) effects of marketing practices on public policy and society, or (4) the study of public policy per se with implications for marketing theory and practice. As JPP&M editors have encouraged over the years, “marketing and public policy” also refers to the broader relationships of “marketing and society” and “marketing and ethics,” yet with implications for specific parties and/or organizations studied (Mazis 2011; Wiener, Ellen, and Burton 2020). Recent expansion topics include marketing and political activity (Korschun et al. 2020), the role of technology in marketing and public policy (Walker, Milne, and Weinberg 2019), marketing and responses to natural disasters/pandemics (Baker 2009; Okazaki et al. 2015; Scott et al. 2020), marketing and sustainability (Iyer and Reczek 2017; Schwartz and Lowenstein 2017), the role of misinformation and trust in social media, and consumer well-being and wisdom (Mick et al. 2012). With such an expansion, it still is important for authors to tie their contributions to specific policy issues, parties, and organizations in the research. Such specifics, coupled with supportive evidence and facts, are always preferred over hypotheticals and generalities in moving toward a successful outcome for a JPP&M submission.

Examples of Application Areas

At the federal level in the United States, laws can be passed by Congress that affect marketing communications, such as the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (FSPTCA), and the 1990 Nutrition Labeling Education Act (NLEA). In addition, antitrust laws address anticompetitive collusion, exclusion, mergers and other conduct that unreasonably restrains trade (Cohen 1995; Gundlach 2001a, b). This includes issues such as price collusion and discrimination, refusal to deal, tying clauses, tech monopoly power, intellectual property, etc. The FTC is the primary regulatory agency of business investigating and preventing both unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices affecting commerce. The Commission’s two primary missions are to protect competition and to protect consumers. (The DOJ also shares responsibility of the protection of competition with the FTC.) At the FTC, “policy” can come in the form of a trade regulation rule (against an entire industry; e.g., 1999 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule), an individual enforcement action (e.g., deceptive or unfair ad case), operating policy statement (e.g., COPPA applied to voice recordings in 2017; FTC/DOJ antitrust policy), or guideline (e.g., 1992 Environmental Marketing Guides or “Green Guides”). The FDA is the federal agency in charge of regulating package information and contents for food, drugs, biologics, medical devices, tobacco, and other products. At the FDA, regulatory policy and rulemaking procedures can come from U.S. law, Executive Orders and memoranda issued by the President, and the FDA’s own regulations. Some JPP&M articles based on FDA policy and rules include Levy, Fein, and Schucker (1996), Kees et al. (2010), Berry, Burton, and Howlett (2017), Burton, Biswas and Netemeyer (1994), and Netemeyer et al. (2016). There also are exceptions to FTC and FDA coverage, such as U.S. Department of Agriculture oversight of meat and poultry, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and individual state actions (e.g., California Consumer Privacy Act). In addition, there are international agreements affecting marketing (e.g., Paris Climate Accord) as well as worldwide policy and regulations influencing health (World Health Organization), trade (World Trade Organization and “TRIPS”), regions (European Union, Mercosur) and individual countries (Canada’s Competition Bureau and Health Canada, China’s State Administration for Market Regulation). In fact, international policy issues and actions have become more important than U.S. domestic ones recently, especially for generating research ideas in areas such as food labeling and tobacco regulation.

Of course, partners in many countries are self-regulatory agencies, such as the BBB National Programs’ Advertising Self-Regulatory Council and its National Advertising Division and Children’s Advertising Review Unit in the United States. Nonprofits can also play an important role in guiding marketing and public policy, including organizations fostering social entrepreneurship and public health campaign partnerships (e.g., “Truth,” “The Real Cost”; see Farrelly et al. 2017). At the company level, injunctive relief from false advertising or intellectual property violations is also available through the federal courts via the Lanham Act.  Finally, societal, ethical, and social justice issues play an important role in marketing and public policy, as highlighted in the research on marketplace diversity and inclusion from Henderson and Williams (2013). Work on societal, ethical, and social justice also is supported by the Transformative Consumer Research (TCR) and Consumer Culture Theory (CCT) fields as applied to policy (Bahl et al. 2016; Burroughs et al. 2013; Davis et al. 2016; Hein et al. 2016; Mick et al. 2012). For example, the TCR movement calls for strong and sustained research focused on quality-of-life issues about trends and activities of consumption worldwide, with the goal of assisting consumers and policy to positively affect consumer decisions and well-being. These dimensions include, but are not limited to, the scholarly study of vulnerable consumer groups (such as the poor, children and adolescents, and the illiterate); tobacco, alcohol, and drug abuse; nutrition and obesity; physical, psychological, and financial health decision making; product safety; environmental sustainability; and consumer welfare in general (Mick 2006; Mick et al. 2012).

For readers interested in a general overview of research on these marketing and public policy topics, we suggest prior meta-analyses (Argo and Main 2004; Cox et al. 1997; Keller and Lehmann 2008; Purmehdi et al. 2017), general topic reviews (Andrews 2001; Bloom and Gundlach 2001; Gundlach, Block, and Wilkie 2007; Gundlach and Wilkie 1990; Petty 1992), in-depth specific reviews (e.g., advertising and public policy [Kees and Andrews 2019], front-of-pack nutrition labels [Andrews et al. 2014], tobacco warnings [Andrews et al. 2015], product warnings in general [Andrews 2011; Bettman, Payne, and Staelin 1986]), general background on consumer protection issues (Andrews and Shimp 2018, Chapter 4), antitrust policy and law (Cohen 1995; Gundlach 2001a, b; Gundlach 2002), and/or social justice and ethical principles (Laczniak and Murphy 2012; Loureiero et al 2016; Santos and Laczniak 2009). Important work on vulnerable consumers has appeared in JPP&M, including research exploring how the visually impaired navigate the Americans with Disabilities Act (Baker, Stephens, and Hill 2001), global poverty issues (Hill and Adrangi 1999), and juvenile delinquency consumption and reform programs (Ozanne, Hill, and Wright 1998).  JPP&M Policy Watch articles also offer helpful overviews of emerging areas and research needs that are useful to aspiring scholars interested in recent policy-relevant topics (e.g., policies and research on cannabis; Kees, Fitzgerald, Dorsey and Hill 2020; Kelly et al. 2021).

Marketing and Public Policy Research Development

One suggested starting point for scholars interested in marketing and public policy research is with Brinberg and McGrath’s (1985) “validity network schema” (VNS). In the VNS, researchers develop, clarify, and select elements and relationships from conceptual, methodological, and substantive domains. Next, the researcher is to combine elements and relationships from two of the three domains and then integrate it with the third domain. In marketing and public policy research, it is the substantive domain that is so important for the initial development and focus in combination with either the conceptual or the methodological domains. For example, Walker’s (2016) “sharing-surrendering information matrix” conceptualization addresses the important substantive issue of online information exchanges and the privacy risks associated with socially transmitted data. Similarly, for the substantive issue of (children’s online) privacy, methodological approaches (e.g., experimentation) have been combined with conceptual support (e.g., cognitive defense strategies) (Andrews, Walker and Kees 2020). A focus on the substantive domain in question requires a full immersion in the marketing and public policy issue. This can be accomplished by thoroughly investigating the many sides of an issue, attending agency webinars and conferences, participating in Marketing and Public Policy Conference sessions, contacting researchers and policy officials, serving as a visiting scientist or on advisory committees at agencies, etc. As part of the immersion process, researchers should ask the following questions about the policy issue:

  • What is known? Not known?
  • Are there knowledge gaps?
  • Is there policy without consumer and/or marketplace evidence?
  • Are there unfavorable effects on consumers due to marketers’ promotion, price, product or supply chain practices, or challenges in the external environment that should be addressed through new, proactive policy (e.g., the COVID-19 pandemic; Scott et al. 2020)?

Conclusions

In conclusion, it is important to reiterate Wilkie and Gardner’s (1974) point that public policy will continue with or without the help of marketing researchers. So, we are hoping that you will become “immersed” in public policy research and join the growing number of scholars who are studying interesting and important issues and trying to make a positive difference in society and in people’s lives.

References

Andrews, J. Craig (2001), “The Use of Marketing Knowledge in Formulating and Enforcing Consumer Protection Policy,” in The Handbook of Marketing and Society, Paul N. Bloom and Gregory T. Gundlach, eds. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 1–33.

Andrews, J. Craig (2011), “Warnings and Disclosures,” in Communicating Risk and Benefits: An Evidence-Based Users Guide, Baruch Fischhoff, Noel Brewer, and Julie Downs, eds. Silver Spring, MD: U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 149–61.

Andrews, J. Craig, Conrad Choiniere, and David Portnoy (2015), “Opportunities for Consumer Research from the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 34 (1), 119–30.

Andrews, J. Craig, Chung-Tung Jordan Lin, Alan S. Levy, and Serena Lo (2014), “Consumer Research Needs from the Food and Drug Administration on Front-of-Package Nutritional Labeling,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 33 (1),10–16.

Andrews, J. Craig and Terence A. Shimp (2018), “Environmental, Regulatory, and Ethical Issues,” in Advertising, Promotion, and Other Aspects of Integrated Marketing Communications, 10th ed., Chapter 4. Boston: Cengage Learning, 59–83.

Andrews, J. Craig, Kristen L. Walker, and Jeremy Kees (2020), “Children and Online Privacy Protection: Empowerment from Cognitive Defense Strategies,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 39 (2), 205–19.

Argo, Jennifer and Kelley J. Main (2004), “Meta-Analyses of the Effectiveness of Warning Labels,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 23 (2), 193–208.

Bahl, Shalini, George R. Milne, Spencer M. Ross, and David G. Mick, Sonya A. Grier, Sunaina K. Chugani, et al. (2012), “Mindfulness: Its Transformative Potential for Consumer, Societal, and Environmental Well-Being,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 35 (2), 198–210.

Baker, Stacy Menzel (2009), “Vulnerability and Resilience in Natural Disasters: A Marketing and Public Policy Perspective,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 28 (1), 114–23.

Baker, Stacey Menzel, Debra Lynn Stephens, and Ronald Paul Hill (2001), “Marketplace Experiences of Individuals with Visual Impairments: Beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 20 (2), 215–24.

Berry, Christopher, Scot Burton, and Elizabeth Howlett (2017), “The Impact of E-Cigarette Addiction Warnings and Health-Related Claims on Consumers’ Risk Beliefs and Use Intentions,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 36 (1), 54–69.

Bettman, James R., John W. Payne, and Richard Staelin (1986), “Cognitive Considerations in Designing Effective Labels for Presenting Risk Information. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 5 (1), 1–28. 

Professor and Charles H. Kellstadt Chair in Marketing, Marquette University | bio

Distinguished Professor and Tyson Chair in Food and Consumer Products Retailing, University of Arkansas | bio

Coggin Distinguished Professor of Marketing, University of North Florida | bio

Dean’s Professor of Marketing and Public Policy, American University | bio

Professor and Richard J. and Barbara Naclerio Endowed Chair in Business, Villanova University | bio

Ralph A. Beeton Professor of Free Enterprise, University of Virginia | bio

Professor of Marketing, Department of Marketing, Nazarian College of Business and Economics, California State University Northridge | bio