George Brenkert: Marketing, the Ethics of Consumption,

and Less-Developed Countries (LDC) (1998)


1.   European immigrants to American believed they had the true way of life

      a. Persuaded, cajoled, and coerced natives into the true religion

      b. Converted heathens into the enlightened worldview for the sake of their salvation

      c. Didn’t care about their culture, though did believe in responsibility to save the heathens

2.   Today, Western Europeans and North Americans are fanning out across the globe, modern missionaries on behalf of consumption, marketing, economic development, and consumer lifestyle/society

      a. Trying to persuade the less developed world to adopt our view of the good life

      b. Some claim a sense of responsibility to bring less-developed world skills, techniques, capital to improve their lives and develop their societies


3.   What influence do international marketers have on local cultures, institutions, and ways of life, and what responsibilities do they have to those cultures when they try to foster consumer societies in LDCs, by promoting higher level of consumption?

      a. Marketing understood broadly: Advertisements, promotion, product development, market research, decisions to introduce products, use of high or low levels of technology, ongoing efforts to coordinate & control distribution standards


4.   Attempts to create consumer societies promote these values (among others)

5.   (Negative)Values of the Consumer Society

      a. Affirmative value of consumption over abstention in life

      b. Link of consumption with happiness, acceptance, and status

      c. Material success as a major goal

      d. More is better than less; sooner is better than later

      e. Needlessness of denial and acceptability of instant gratification

      f. Acceptability of the acquisitive nature of humans

      g. Encourages identification of people with what they possess or consume (view of people as consumers): We are what we have

      h. What matters is cheap prices; consumers need little knowledge of how or where consumed objects are produced

      i.  World a collection of resources whose primary value lies in their usefulness for consumption (anthropocentric view of nature–nature is valuable only in so far as it contributes to humans)

6.   These values are accepted by LDC along with the products, skills, technologies, etc.; a hidden dimension of what they accept the consumer society type of economic development


7.   Such value promotion by marketers of economic development can undermine local values/culture

      a. Individually a marketer may not have much affect, but collectively can have great influence

      b. E.g., like pollution


8.   Brenkert’s view of international marketers main moral obligation

      a. Marketers must respect the local culture, work with it, not against it; they should not try to undermine it; or work to destroy cultural identity of the people

      b. Standard practices of marketers often challenge local culture


9.   In India, Hindus believe that only by renunciation of material possessions can one become what one truly is

      a. Hindu holy book, Bhagavad Gita, rejects attainment of good life via attachment to worldly goods

      b. Marketers should not seek to make Indian society materialistic

      c. E.g., MasterCard’s efforts to encourage buying on credit in LDCs

10. Frugality (thrift) of Indians

      a. Indians reuse, refill, repair: razors, cigarette lighters, use old saris as sanitary napkins

      b. Marketers view frugality of Indian people as an important social hurdle to overcome

      c. Seek to change this value of Indian customers and encourage them to throw away used goods

11. Yuppies in India defer purchasing decision to elders

      a. Marketing shouldn’t (but attempts to) undermine such family values

12. Communalism of Indian culture

      a. Western business promotes individualism (individual is responsible for own needs and goals) over communalism (essential to local cultures)

      b. India communalism

          i.        Needs and well being is the responsibility of the system

          ii.       India managers committed to the system/people, not goals/tasks

          iii.      Rather than value autonomy, they value constructively channeled dependence

          iv.      Working in a western style system leads to alienation and lost of trust

          v.       Reciprocal system of need satisfaction, shared labor system, redistribution of wealth

                    (1)     Undermined by market exchange

13. Marketers attack inefficient distribution system of LDCs that lead to higher final prices (but embody important cultural values)

      a. Distribution systems that are inefficient embody other values important for local cultures

          i.        Longstanding relationships

          ii.       Customers know and known by businesses

          iii.      Individual gets better information

      b. That this is inefficient, doesn’t mean can ignore these cultural traditions



14. Brenkert asserts a rights limit to respecting culture

      a. Must respect local culture but only to extent local cultures don’t violate human rights (e.g., of women and children)

15. He is a universalist with local moral space: Basic moral principles, values and rights for all people, other norms relative to cultures

      a. Allow cultural space for variances that don’t affect basic norms

          i.        Here a society can find some things acceptable that others don’t

      b. E.g., Nepotism permissible: Hiring family members of friends into jobs rather than objective assessment of only job related characteristics

          i.        If you are doing business in such a place, must you not only accept that other do this, but allow it done in your company?

          ii.       Seems like it conflicts with Donaldson’s nondiscrimination right

16. Marketers tend to be ethical relativists

      a. Argue that one should behave in other countries as these people behave

          i.        E.g., accept gift giving and minor bribery

      b. But if so then they should accept and not undermine local cultural values


17. Acknowledges that marketers provide positive benefits for LDCs

      a. Higher quality goods produced, reduced infant mortality rates, improved crop yields (but consider failure of Green Revolution.....)

      b. Ought not to deny many in LDC need greater goods and services

18. Rejects primitivist approach to LDCs

      a. Where well-meaning Westerners want LDCs to realize a past idealized natural condition for humanity

      b. Idea that a romantic primitive state of harmony with nature is what would be best for LDCs

      c. Is this what Brenkert has in mind: Continue living in mud houses, no refrigeration, indoor plumbing, farm with animals, not tractors?

19. Rejects paternalistic (father knows best) approach to LDCs

      a. We will not share important goods and services because we believe it would be better for them if they didn’t have them

      b. Better if not corrupted by modern conveniences

          i.        Refrigerators, flush toilets, washing machines, cars

      c. Brenkert asserts that they should decide for themselves what is good for them

      d. What about TVs, Hummers, plastic surgery?

20. He thinks it important that LDCs have increased consumption and economic development, but worries about nature of that consumption in relation to their culture

      a. Concerned about form development takes when it promotes a consumer culture and how this affects their culture


21. He assumes a culture has intrinsic value and is something worthy of respect

      a. A society’s culture represents efforts of humans to create themselves as humans

      b. Gives meaning and definition to peoples lives, sense of place and identity

      c. Disappearance or alteration of a culture by external forces is a potentially important loss

22. Change itself is not the problem

      a. Objection is not that marketing causes change in unique cultures, as change is inevitable and some of it desirable

      b. Marketers don’t necessarily show disrespect for a culture by participating in changes that they undergo

      c. Whether it’s a loss depends on nature of changes and how brought about

      d. Thus when marketers affect change in a culture their activities are highly ethically charged and require significant morally responsibility

23. Respect for cultures requires marketers should seek to understand cultures they work in

      a. Because without understanding a culture, they can’t give it moral consideration and avoid disrupting it



25. Homogenization: Brought about homogenization of people, cultures, and values across cultures

      a. Homogenize tastes throughout world and get people to desire same goods everywhere

          i.        Happens in this country; the South Carolina Lowcountry no longer looks/feels like the Lowcountry but same as everyplace else

          ii.       Homogenization destroys diversity: Wherever you go, same stores, same cars, same houses, same plants, people talk the same, etc

      b. Brenkert’s reply:

          i.        Homogenization not necessarily bad:

                    (1)     Common standards for steel girders, pipes, air traffic control desirable and leaves cultures untouched

          ii.       He’s only worried about homogenization that undercuts cultural identity

26. Marketing the consumer society produces unattainable goals and an unsustainable society

      a. When marketers turn a culture into a consumer society

          i.        Where people see themselves as consumers whose wants and needs require western style products and levels of consumption

      b. Not only do they destroy cultural integrity of the place

      c. Bring about forms and levels of consumption that are not sustainable or even attainable (and not valued by local indigenous culture)

      d. This frustrates them by giving them a dream that can’t be fulfilled

          i.        Can’t achieve western style goods and services for world as a whole

      e. Marketers should promote economic forms of development that are attainable as well as sustainable

27. Marketing the consumer society undercuts important traditions and sources of meaningfulness (i.e., destroys cultures), while offering meaning via consumption--a value system that is of proven questionability in the West


28. Marketers should not insist on entry into markets (by threatening sanctions), when this will destroy cultural integrity

      a. Limits to free trade and globalization

          i.        Problems with talk about “global village”

      b. This directly counters a (the) major economic trend in world today

29. Some types of marketing shouldn’t be done in some countries (as destroy cultural values)

      a. McDonald’s in India?

      b. Miniskirts in Arab Countries?

30. Should market in a way that protects local culture

31. Despite his criticisms, he thinks marketers generally can do business in LDCs under these constraints