It’s not personal. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, it is often said. But in international marketing, distance can also mean abdication of responsibility. Marketers sometimes clearly demonstrate their desire not to know—for example, by appointing a middleman about whose behavior one can later on be suitably astonished, surprised and mortified. As developing nations develop greater expectations of corporate social responsibility and create new legal requirements, irresponsible marketers may encounter a less tolerant face in host countries. Though the chairman of the multinational corporation may feel suitably removed from local issues, be assured that the locals take all of the firm’s actions very personally.
Whose idea is it anyway? As international marketers voraciously pursue opportunity, they will also encounter fierce local competition and instant copying of good ideas. Intellectual property rights violations, including counterfeiting, piracy and copyrights violations, are rampant in many parts of the developing world. These not only harm the international marketer but also the consumers who purchase defective products. Think of the consumer who needs treatment for a critical illness and receives a fake drug. Or consider the situation of Chinese passengers after the crash of high-speed trains, which were manufactured by Chinese companies with technology incompetently copied from Western companies. The government policy of “technology importation, digestive absorption, independent re-innovation and localization” rings hollow to the grieving families of crash victims.
We can use Janus as a god of contradictions and transitions, but we can not turn to him for guidance in morality, ethics or even law. International marketers will confront dilemmas and challenges. How well they pursue the conjunction of highly effective marketing and ethical practices will inevitably be reflected in the loyalty of customers and the judgment of host governments.
About the Authors
Michael Czinkota researches international marketing issues at Georgetown University and the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. He served in trade policy positions in the George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan administrations, and currently collaborates in a national export certification effort. Visit his blog at michaelczinkota.com . Charles Skuba teaches international business and marketing at Georgetown University. He served in the George W. Bush Administration in trade policy positions in the U.S. Department of Commerce. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Winner takes all. One key Western marketing dimension is the glory of victory in competition. Such an adherence to victory often means that, akin to Atilla’s hordes of yesteryear, there is no mercy for the vanquished. Not everywhere are such approaches supported, desired or accepted. Often, the goal becomes for the victor to mend fences, reinvigorate a feeling of togetherness and provide a cause for standing together. In many societies it is expected that one not take advantage of what could be done, but rather consensually do what ought to be done. Such context makes it far less acceptable to practice what we have called “vampire marketing,” where the airline or hotel extracts blood-sucking prices for additional services or products from its captive audience after the major purchase decision has been made. Perhaps Western marketers can learn valuable lessons from this context and consequently make themselves more valuable to their customers.
Who is on the pedestal? Particularly in the United States, we think of the individual as the key component of society. But such a perspective is not uniformly taken around the world. For example, in socialist or tribal societies it is typically the group that receives preference over the individual. Society can also be seen as the key shaper of the individual. Or perhaps the family is accorded top billing. In such cases, just imagine how different emphases in making financial decisions can be re-interpreted in various settings. What may be corruption and bribery to some may turn out to be filial devotion to others. With the strict administration of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the new, more stringent U.K. anti-bribery law about to take effect, there may be harsh consequences to businesses and individuals who are not attentive to the laws governing that contradiction.
Distorting aspirations. As economic growth in emerging markets allows millions of people to enter the middle class, it brings great new opportunities for them to improve the quality of their lives. It also exposes them to the challenge of rising aspirations with limited income. New international consumers must learn how to manage their aspirations as they experience emotional marketing appeals for products and services that might not be considered practical or “good for them.”
In a chapter titled “Ethical Lapses of Marketers” in Jagdish Sheth and Rajendra Sisodia’s book, Does Marketing Need Reform? (M.E. Sharpe, 2006), good friend Philip Kotler posed two dimensions of “the marketing dilemma” for all marketing: (1) What if the customer wants something that is not good for him or her? (2) What if the product or service, while good for the customer, is not good for society or other groups? How consumers, marketers and societies manage that dilemma in international markets will need to be resolved on a country-by-country basis.
Coping with culture. All too often, cultures are insufficiently studied or wrongly interpreted. It might seem that responsiveness to cultural differences should be second nature to marketers and therefore virtually reflexive. However, cultural differences continue to challenge marketers and can negatively affect the marketplace. Many times, disregarding local idiosyncrasies is like the introduction of a destructive virus on a culture. For example, bringing snakes to Guam almost exterminated all birds there. Or, when selling construction wood to Japan, the importer of the boards needs to consider both the typical Japanese “tsubo” size, as well as the Japanese tendency to build smaller rooms. Not doing so supports the success of competitors and leaves Japanese purchasers dissatisfied.
Though there is frequent talk about how we understand each other so much better than in the past, the reality looks different. The actual overlap between societies is typically very miniscule. There may be a number of Chinese industry leaders who have been to the United States and have developed a clear understanding of America and Americans, but they represent a very small fraction of the Chinese populace. The average Chinese person may knowledgably understand as much about Columbus, Ohio, as the average Buckeye State resident knows about Tianjin. The consequence of that limitation is a danger of misunderstandings and susceptibility to hostility.
Effective marketing and ethical practices must exist
We both are dyed-in-the-wool international marketers. Our last column explained our fervent belief in the contributions of international marketing to a better quality of life. Yet there are also fears and challenges emanating from the field and its activities. Just like the Roman god Janus, who had two faces and has come to embody the notion of contradiction to modern thinkers, international marketing brings both good and bad to the global marketplace. Exploitation of factory workers by global apparel brands exemplifies the negative consequences of globalization, but that is really more of an
operations and management issue (except for the risk and impact of negative
publicity on the brand). With the recent dramatic expansion of international
marketing to new audiences in the developing world, there are serious social
impacts that need consideration. Here are our thoughts on those, calibrated by
input from global executives.
Encounter of the unexpected. Janus was not only a god of contradiction but a god whose countenance the Romans put on doors and gates as a symbol of transition.There are many who, in times of transition, have come new to market, and even new to
marketing. New dimensions have made life more complex, both for marketers and
those who are being marketed to. For example, some slogans offered routinely to
markets with a public experienced with marketing, such as “you may have won a
new car,” may be interpreted quite differently by newcomers. Their high
expectations may lead to disappointments and even hostility. Because marketers
are the initiators of new practices, it is their responsibility to avoid causing harm.