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Why do brands cause troublesome ethical debates? A review of D.B Holt’s consumer research piece.

Why do brands cause troublesome ethical debates? A review of D.B Holt’s consumer research piece.

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Paula Corcoran. Originally submitted for BCOMM at University College Cork, with lecturer Donnacha Kavanagh in the category of Philosophical Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by Paula Corcoran. Originally submitted for BCOMM at University College Cork, with lecturer Donnacha Kavanagh in the category of Philosophical Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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05/13/2014

 
Question: Write a scholarly essay setting out your views on theissues (which relate to ethics and marketing practice) that Holtdiscusses in the piece
“Why do brands cause trouble? adialectical theory of consumer culture and branding.”
Holt, D.B. (2002)Word Count: 2860
Please Note:As the question is asking for my views on the issues Holt discusses, Holt is myprimary source of information and shall be referenced at the beginning only and notthroughout the piece. Following this Holts piece shall be included in the bibliography.Let it be known the views expressed as Holts are not my own, but Holts, unlessotherwise stated.
 
Why do brands cause troublesome ethical debates? A review of D.B
Holt‟s
consumer research piece.
The ethical issues surrounding marketing
are called to scrutiny in Douglas Holt‟s piece „Why do brands cause trouble‟ in which we, as readers, are encouraged
toquestion how brands affect the world in which we live. In this essay I intend onquesti
oning „Is post
-modern marketing unethical?
‟.
This question shall be answered by identifying and exploring the ethical issuesof control and manipulation of brands on their consumers. As well as thisinvestigating the cases surrounding resistance to mass marketing, and how this hasunintentionall
y improved a brand‟s profitability
will be taken into account. Holtidentifies the characteristics by which resistance
consumers‟
protest against thenormal consumer patterns and I will explore these and draw up personal conclusions.Furthermore Holt discusses the development of postmodern marketing tools and theirpossible contradictions within themselves and these shall be examined in detail todetermine whether possible alternatives may lie unidentified. I
t is undeniable Holt‟s
piece provides great scope and detail on the consumer resistance movement and hisindependent investigations challenge previous theories on the matter, I too intend tochallenge these theories in order to determine the ethical stance of post modernmarketing today.Brands can be defined as distinctive names and symbols used torepresent a product or company. In our modern day however, brands have a muchmore significant meaning. Brands are identifiably a powerful symbol of control,influence and wealth for they are the unmistakeable calling cards of some of thewealthiest organizations in the world. Organizations such as Nike, Starbucks,Walmart, Coca Cola and
MacDonald‟s
are large and powerful brands that control agreat share of the market in which they operate and thus their brand icons are instantlyrecognizable worldwide. These are organizations that are rooted in wealth andarguably greed, and who appear unstoppable. McDonalds for example enjoys acontinuously growing fast food market in which to operate its constant empirebuilding
„In 1979 Americans spent about $6 billion on fast food; in 2001, they spent
more than $110 billion. Americans now spend more money on fast food than onhigher education,
 personal computers, computer software or new cars‟
1
. This extremepotential for McDonalds is unfavourable in the eyes of consumer resistance and hasresulted in opposing films (Supersize Me
2
), books (Resisting McDonaldization
3
) andeven a widely
 publicised law suit known by the media as
McLibe
l‟. This case
between McDonalds cooperation and London Greenpeace activists Helen Steel andDavid Morris argued the legality surrounding activist distribution of apamphlet
entitled „What‟s wrong with McDonald‟s: Everything they don‟t want you to know
.These leaflets were damaging to many of McDonalds health and safety, treatment of employees and environmental sustainability claims. Although McDonalds were
awarded victorious in the courts, The „McLibel Two‟ were
proven to be violated bythe British Courts under theDeclaration of Human RightsArticles six: right to a fairtrial and Article ten: right to freedom of expression of in his piece and thus won a
1
Eric Schlosser
„Fast Food Nation‟ (Penguin Books 2002) ISBN:
0-141-00687-0
2
Information regarding film available online. URL: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0390521/ .Last cited 07/01/2010
3
 
Smartt, Barry „Resisting McDonaldization‟ Sage Publications (1999) ISBN: 0
-7619-5518-6
 
moral victory for consumption resistance worldwide.
4
It is increasingly evidentthrough cases such as McLiberal that a resistance is forming against such powerfulbrands as their control over people through are believed to be too strong and their
 practices unethical. In Naomi Klein‟s book „No Logo‟
5
readers are encouraged to joinher on the mission to fight the socially accepted marketing Medias through tactics
known as “culture jamming”.
Culture jamming is defined in
„No Logo‟ a
s the practiceof 
parodying advertisements and hijacking billboards in order to drastically altertheir messages
”. Klein‟s powerful proposi
tion is accompanied by the foundation of www.adbusters.org
6 
; an organization devoted to the public denouncement of unethical marketing and the promotion of individually formed consumer thought. Thequestion asked i
s „A
re brands controlling and manipulating consumers for the sake of 
 profits?‟
 
and it is of the opinion of both Klein and „adbusters‟ that yes they are.
Theuse of south East Asian sweat shops to product inferior products, environmentallydamaging practices, substandard treatment of employees, unethical market takeoversand excessive flooding of the media are all resulted in a growing voice of opposition
towards the world‟s big brands. To these resistance groups‟ unethical practices are
ongoing and must be stopped.Manipulative advertisements have been featured on televisions andbillboards, radio stations and magazines for years. Holt explains in his piece the effectof the Cultural Authority Model and its implication into the lives of consumers. Itseems marketers enjoyed their roles as Cultural Engineers for years during the modernmarketing period, using their roles to shape the wants of consumers towardscommercial goods. The power infested in marketers as a result of this wasextraordinary as they controlled
society‟s views of 
products, and more importantly thesocial rejection of those who did not have the products. In particular post World War2 American consumers were manipulated by these cultural engineers into believingmaterialistic goods were not just luxuries but necessities of life and this shaped thedevelopment of their suburban culture significantly. Is this unethical? The control of consumers to the point that they are unaware they are being controlled is certainlyquestionable. Holt mentions in his piece the power of the national brands
whichprovided instruction for how to perform the collective good life, acted as the socialglue that helped to bring together neighbo[u]rhoods of strangers.
7
The
social glue
 of the good life that is referred to is a prime example of how marketing played such amajor role in the lives of consumers in the modern era. That role of marketing wasundeniable and unavoidable and perhaps even unethical. Marketing
s status controlled
 people‟s social status and
i
t was said to make women “feel good just to go into a highstatus store”
8
. One must ask how must the women unable to go into such stores havefelt? Is this unethical or are the upset feelings of less privileged consumersunavoidable expenditure in the eyes of a marketer?
The 1960‟
s marked itself in history as a cultural revolution and thisrevolution significantly helped shape the future of brand marketing. In partnershipwith people of that generation redefining themselves brands also reinvented the way
4
Available online. URL: http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/europe/02/15/mclibel/index.html Last cited 12/12/2009
5
 
 Naomi Klein „No Logo‟ (Flamingo 2000) ISBN:0 00 25591
9 6
6
Available online. URL: www.adbusters.org.Last cited: 05/01/2010.
7
 
Holt D.B. (2002) “Why do brands cause trouble? A dialectical theory of consumer culture and branding” Journal of Consumer Research 29 (June)
70-90
8
 
Daniel Horowitz „American Social Classes in the 1950s selections from Vance Packard‟s “The StatusSeekers” (Bedford Books 1995) ISBN: 0
-312-11180-0

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