Mindful Marketing
February 2008
I remember meeting a Québec co-operator who firmly believed that a cooperative should not advertise. He insisted that a cooperative’s duty was to inform. He was pretty categorical, but his opinion does lead us to reflect on business ethics and their often less than honest advertising processes. Advertising may be misleading or completely false, it may be touching or funny, but its purpose is to sell – one way or another – regardless of actual need. In marketing terms, advertising is just another selling tool. In fact, we can now directly address and manipulate the client’s subconscious to drum up sales, without even resorting to advertising. An idea that, for a co-operator, poses an obvious ethical conundrum.

Under the cover of confidentiality, some big companies have long been collaborating with neurological research labs. They have so far discovered that part of the brain, the reptilian zone, is responsible for our buying urges. We have entered into the era of neuro-marketing where titillating the consumer’s reptilian zone is a sure way to increase sales. Perfumes and other sensory stimuli, sometimes subliminal, are hard at work and are the result of marketing firms specializing in this avant-garde science.

“Our reason for being is to help you trigger the buying impulse”, such is the loosely translated motto of a neuromarketing-based company advertising its wares on the Internet. All this is fascinating… but isn’t it just a little disquieting? Will we soon be suckered into buying anything and everything?

To tip the scales on the side of decency, since the limits of social acceptability have almost been reached, there is another kind of approach making its way in the world, one that is the complete opposite of neuromarketing. Introducing socially responsible marketing. This approach calls upon the company as world citizen, embracing accountability and sustainable development while seeking the respect of its clientele. Jacques Nantel, professor at the HEC and renowned marketing specialist, believes that socially responsible marketing is in fact the strategy of the future. The principle is simple: if the marketplace supports business and employment, we must be careful not to run this precious resource dry. Consequently, business would be well advised to preserve its clients’ buying power to ensure its own future. Statistics have shown that households have almost doubled their debt level over the past twenty years: in the long term, our credit hungry society cannot survive. Selling is all well and good, but when cold, hard cash is no longer part of the equation, neither the client nor the business are winners.

How does this responsible marketing approach translate in the real world? First, it promotes complete and adequate training for sales staff, which lets sales people understand client needs and advise them accordingly for the purpose of guiding them toward more socially responsible consumption. Thus, the sales staff can dissuade a client from purchasing a particular product by indicating that such product by far exceeds the identified need. In the short term, the sale may be lost, but the customer’s trust has been gained. This certainly goes a long way in satisfying corporate ethical concerns and in maintaining the interest of those in charge of commercial strategy.

Evidently, responsible marketing is not accessible to everyone. Nowadays, this approach is almost a luxury reserved to companies that already enjoy loyal support. Should a business have a lesser following, the hard earned dollars it sacrifices to this approach will be lost to their fiercest competitor. Some of our cooperatives are already positioning themselves as part of this new socially responsible marketing movement. As for the others, they’ll need to make some adjustments and educate their clientele… because what seems like a luxury today may well become an integral part of corporate social accountability in the future.


Colette Lebel, agr.
Director of Cooperative Affairs
La Coop fédérée
Email: colette.lebel@lacoop.coop
Fax: (514) 858-2025


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