When Countless Consumers are Quiet, Marketers and Regulators Should Know They Could Do Better.

As a mass consumer, why are we feeling that we were trapped or being fooled by what we purchased sometimes? It was probably because we really were, and that doesn’t stop in this pandemic.

It is reasonable to believe that every single legitimate business out there is either profitable already or on their path to strive for profitability. In order to gain desired profits, a firm has to promise sales; and marketing for the product or service is prerequisite for every sale to proceed. Nonetheless, there are some unconventional marketing practices that continue putting consumers in a disadvantageous position during the engagement of an enterprise and an individual. For example, five years ago, Volkswagen lied to more than 550,000 car owners about its falsely claimed low carbon vehicle; as a result, it had not only cost Volkswagen $34.7 billion in fines, but also permanently damaged some reputation for its brand image. If there was significant dishonesty in an automobile giant like Volkswagen, we can also believe that there are smaller enterprises that shield themselves under massive umbrella.

Therefore, it is necessary to openly dissect these victimizations of consumption that mass consumers have to tolerate from businesses and the government in a daily basis, raise awareness and implications for not only the public readers, but also the marketers and regulators who proactively contributed to such appeasement of an unjust dynamics in the world of marketing.

In fact, the reality of business world is much more complex and chaotic than what the public could imagine. For a quick example, a controversial statement or incident by a brand ambassador is enough to damage a company’s short-term marketability or stock price if it is publicly traded. In September 2018, Nike released an ad that starred by Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback for 49ers, who kneeled in multiple televised games during the national anthem time which sparked heated controversy across the U.S. On the day that advertisement was released, Nike’s stock closed by dropping 3.2%. Though this instance might not happen to ordinary people at all, the phenomenon provides a view on the extent of complication for a company’s survival in the business world.

As a consumer or customer of different businesses for better changes, we should know our parts, speak the truth of our parts and take action on behalf of our consumer interests constantly. Only when there is stronger consensus formed among mass consumers like ourselves, the marketers and policymakers would start compromising and adjusting even more for consumers in unprecedented ways.

What Should I Expect or Understand as a Mass Consumer?

First of all, consumer behaviors and lots of the purchase decisions are impacted by different factors. And you shouldn’t be surprised; instead, you should always remember, reflect and reassess your every purchase’s value with these mentioned factors as criteria.

Major factors that would impact consumer behavior.

Knowing these factors would not only help consumers differentiate the natures of their daily decision making in buying or selling stuff; moreover, it would assist them to rethink about how their consumer behaviors are strongly related to different groups of individual in society.

Shift of Power in Medium. How Consumers Adapt to the Current Media?

After understanding the types of factors that would impact a consumer’s behavior, it is necessary to expect that there are always some hidden and external forms of marketing activities appear in your consumption settings as well. Deceptive marketing and covert marketing are two of the most common hidden marketing forms; they essentially try to take as much control away from the consumer as possible during the interaction between a business and its end customers without breaking any law most of the time. For instance, if you bought a pizza that ended up being so different from the picture on its packaging, Congratulations! You were most likely trapped into a deceptive marketing activity. In a more severe case, you found your recently favorite sneaker on an e-commerce website that has cookies, which ask for visitor’s permission to collect various personal data; but in order to purchase the sneaker, you had accepted all the cookies without a blink. Yup, your email inbox would likely to receive tons of unsolicited ad messages later because you just got yourself into a covert marketing activity.

While next section would dive deeper into deceptive marketing of enterprises, some current movements of consumer interaction with different media in the immediate future are worth to be aware of so that individuals are capable of becoming not only a more civilized consumer, but also a self-protective human being when they’re confronting various real world marketing activities today in a digital economy.

Although you might think that the 2020 global pandemic had seriously hurt the world’s economy, consumer’s power over digital marketing, a huge component of modern corporate marketing strategy, has never shown greater strength than they do today.

The outlets of entertainment are moving its attention away from broadcast television and cinema strategically after the pandemic had emerged. More specifically, the traditional media businesses realized that they needed to move on to the streaming service for their customers. Since the content that was distributed is essentially the same, customers might show increasing demands for streaming platforms due to the convenience of its mobility. Moreover, the travel restrictions of this pandemic had created surging room for essential industry like healthcare as well; a noticeable increase of telehealth patients was reported since the first community spread of COVID-19 in the U.S (late February of 2020). Thanks to the pandemic and restrictions that come with this unpredictable global emergency, consumers are able to decide the trends of many businesses more proactively than before.

Number of telehealth patient encounters reported by four telehealth providers that offer services in all states and percentage change in telehealth encounters and emergency department (ED) visits — United States, January 1–March 30, 2019 (comparison period) and January 1–March 28, 2020 (early pandemic period)

In addition, with more and more information regarding to any topic available on internet, consumers could just utilize the search engine and gather desired research within minutes now. As a result, either marketing agencies or marketing department within an organization is now facing the challenge of ineffectiveness from their used pushed marketing efforts, which they try to actively sell their products to mass consumers; instead, many of them are forced to deploy a pulled strategy for a better fit in the perfect information economies which increases the availability of information to lure the consumers in. Since it nearly has no hidden information online anymore, customers should be able to scrutinize a topic that they’re interested in thoroughly before the entities of their interests reach out to them. Moreover, consumers should be more capable of forming their independent opinions on an individual, object, or event by doing their own research online today.

Marketers & Regulators: the Continuation and Appeasement toward Unethical Marketing that Targets Mass Consumers.

Just because of the pandemic had hit the globe and caused people’s anxiety to go higher, unethical marketing is nowhere close to be disappeared in the near future. One of the most recent examples would probably be Donald Trump and his unscientific comments regarding to the danger of coronavirus that was stirred by his political purposes. It not only spread false information to civilians virally especially with today’s social media presence, but also unnecessary hate between ethnic groups in the nation that put its own national security in threats. This was an evident incident that showed the mass is not only exploited by many businesses, but also by their government. The main obstructions are created by two entities: the corporate world and the governmental agencies.

There are a number of means to practice unethical marketing by marketers:

Misleading advertising: a type of illegal advertising that usually only highlights the positive features of a product or service, and mostly hides the negative features and scientific proofs about the offerings. Thus, this causes significant consumer injury. (Ex. Corrosive make-up products)

Contacting people without their permission: a type of common marketing behavior that is utilized by many organizations and institutions to generate volumes and collect consumer data. Because of the difference in geographic locations of a company, this type of unethical marketing could happen at any given time via phone, text, and email to everyone. The unsolicited message usually annoys the consumers if it is sent multiple times. (Ex. Political propaganda)

Inciting controversy: the marketers often intentionally express an unpopular opinion out on the media or internet just to get audience started to discuss and create even more exposure for the topic. Although many controversies have drawn great attentions from the public, most of them results in creating more foe than customers for a company. (Ex. H&M’s racial sensitive design campaign cause many to boycott the brand)

Emotional exploitation: while ads that demonstrate great storytelling techniques which evoke one’s memories could be beneficial for the company, meaningless ads that crossed the line could do great damage toward the audience’s mood while viewing the advertisement. Thus, emotional exploitation is a double edged sword in marketing. (Ex. Most beverage companies emphasize the “happiness” of their products, while neglecting the nutritional facts in their ads)

Don’t be shocked that these marketing behaviors by any company are still happening today, because the lack of stringent regulation by authority has indirectly allowed these phenomena to continue occurring daily.

Despite the extent of regulation could be arguably strengthened more by the federal and local authorities, some essential industry’s administration had recently showed great effort on punishing the unethical or illegal advertising related to the pandemic. For example, Food and Drug Administration had filed a lawsuit against a company named Yikon that exploited its FDA approval message to sell their unapproved testing kits for COVID-19 treatment. It is “unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business acts”, according to the LA city attorney.

Clearly, the pandemic has uncovered many marketing behavior issues and raised certain alerts for policymakers and regulators. Nevertheless, in a post pandemic era, what can we expect from the marketers and regulators still remains questionable. Since the global public health emergency outbreaked in March of 2020, many of us paid closer attention to our governments’ reaction with regard to such an unpredictable crisis. Many citizens have also learned much more about the compliance of authorities such as administrations and commissions from the country’s essential industries more than they ever did before. Security and Exchange Commission for financial industry, Food and Drug Administration for healthcare and supplies, and Federal Trade Commission for corporates and consumerism, just to name a few.

Nonetheless, these authorities have been mainly focusing on addressing issues that are triggered by the pandemic or routines in the business world, countless other industries and companies are still hidden from the public’s eyes regarding to their corporate marketing standards and compliance with the most recent policies. In short, more actions are desperately needed.

What Marketers and Regulators Need to Do Next in Order to Improve the Consumption Experience and Environment for Every Consumer within the “New Normal” Era?

  1. Marketers should foster more customer-centric messages when they conduct marketing activity.

According to this CNBC video, the pandemic’s “lockdown saw a quirky consumer behavior an illusion of loyalty. Fewer people making fewer visits to fewer stores”. In fact, this phenomenon revealed that the level of fear was unprecedentedly high among mass consumers. Thus, companies should start creating customer-centric message to comfort its buyers besides simply moving channels online to keep pushing sales during a difficult time like now.

More specifically, not only should the message becomes caring for its target audience to perceive, but the actual products that a company produces should offer practical help for its consumers’ daily life. For example, it was truly hard to imagine what luxury brands could contribute to alleviate the disastrous year of 2020. However, many big names of the luxury house like LVMH and Burberry had utilized their talents to manufacturer products such as hand sanitizer and face masks that could provide immediate relief for those who were affected by the COVID-19.

It once again indicated that during a special time (not only for a public health emergency), a true customer-oriented company should stay flexible and sensible toward the prioritized consumer concerns, and input trustworthy creativity to enhance its brand awareness with morals and ethics, even if the tasks on hands are temporarily not favoring its own industry.

2. Regulators Should Establish Privacy Laws that Explicitly Prohibiting Companies Target Consumers via Electronic Data.

While target marketing is a very traditional and common approach of modern marketing, it is potentially problematic if there’s minimal law or regulation for checks and balances.

In today’s digital age, most civilized consumers would have an electronic or mobile device with them almost all the time for multi-purposes. In fact, the technologies embedded in these devices are meant for things beyond calling or texting someone long time ago; in other words, they were carefully designed to pursue sustainable business purposes for companies besides simply satisfying their customers.

For example, the map in your phone might secretly trace locations without your knowledge. In other words, while you are not using the GPS in a foreign country, the businesses located in your traveling location could still send advertising messages to you because the apps that were downloaded within your phone had given your current location to them. In essence, there are still massive threats in cybersecurity.

As we enter the discussion for a solution, it's worthy to note that the state of California had already established laws for protecting consumer privacy online in a regional level (the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018). Nonetheless, many other states and oversea regions aren’t paying enough national attention to this serious issue just yet. In order to raise awareness about the significance of consumer privacy security and its interrelationship with an ethical marketing environment, the regulators of all states and major emerging markets not only need to classify the information that a marketer can collect from its customer, but more importantly, to ask the marketer to comply fully with consent of its customers. Only with such progress that ensures a more stringent regulation environment for corporate marketing behavior, the consumers and businesses are capable of maintaining their interdependent relationship longer; in addition, rewards that the authority will get would be the hard-earned public trust and the prestige that any governmental agency desires to build.

But yes, California alone is far from enough.

Conclusion

There’s no successful business that doesn’t want to strive for even more sales, profits, and brand value. Nonetheless, how to achieve it legally and humanly in a consistent manner remains as a complicated global challenge. Just like the pandemic that had shattered the world recently, all those death and injuries had reminded how fragile human beings are; yet the vaccine race and remote technologies for work and education showed hope to all of us. What’s next? Exactly, we don’t know. But what powerful figures and institutions should all had learned from this borderless virus is that don’t wait till the predictable problems occur to take further action while we could provenly react so quickly to something that was nearly unpredictable. The day that companies and regulators start fully respecting mass consumers in a span new dimension with personalized support would probably make cybersecurity and data breach no longer a major fuse for unethical marketing environment and consumer complaints. We can all do better.

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