Fitting Marketing Messages to the Circumstances

As a marketing professor it is always fun to hear how people hate marketing. Sometimes people:
A) simply only really hate bad marketing.
B) don’t appreciate that marketing is broader than selling/advertising/communications.
Of course no one cares when we counter their arguments but it makes us feel better.

McGraw, Schwartz and Tetlock (2012) suggest an area where marketing is especially unwelcome — in religion. It seems that people simply don’t want marketing to intrude there. (This is not necessarily true of all business disciplines, most probably want religious organizations to do proper accounting.)

The authors suggest that “if commercial strategies suggest a conspicuous market approach to religion and health care, then consumers may be alienated and either disengage or lash out.” (McGraw, Schwartz, and Tetlock, 2012, page 158).

The most enjoyable thing about the paper is the examples. The experimental manipulations aren’t necessarily indicative of major issues in the real world but they are great fun. Undergraduates were told of “the Catholic Church’s decision to send Mass (i.e., prayer) requests to a congregation in rural India because local congregations could not keep up with demand.” (McGraw, Schwartz, and Tetlock, 2012, page 161).

The students got either a communal justification, all prayers are the same so why not use Indian prayers?, or a market pricing justification, we need to take advantage of the supply of prayers in India to meet demand in the US. The communal justification was much preferred as it seemed to fit better with the religious situation. In a fun extra test, those students who heard the market pricing argument also showed a relative preference for cleaning products immediately afterwards. (Presumably to wash away their outrage about hearing about supply and demand in a religious discussion).

The general message that you should ensure your messages have a good fit with the circumstances is a reasonable one. More fun though is thinking about examples that they could have used. I have a vision of a global market in prayers, with accompanying charts showing prices going up, and worried commentators talking about a global shortage of “Our Fathers”.

Read: A. Peter McGraw, Janet A. Schwartz, and Philip E. Tetlock From the Commercial to the Communal: Reframing Taboo Trade-offs in Religious and Pharmaceutical Marketing, Journal of Consumer Research, 39 (1), pages 157-73