Materialism debate: Does marketing contribute to society's ills?

Jon Alexander and Rory Sutherland
National Trust and Ogilvy

Jon Alexander accuses marketing of sleepwalking society towards a precipice and believes marketers need to think more about the wider impacts of their work. Rory Sutherland defends conspicuous consumption, arguing that status-seeking is innate and a competitive economy is required to promote a healthy variety in the ways in which people express it.

Jon Alexander's case for change

The attitude of the marketing industry to criticism is often an exasperated "not us again!"

We look back to The Hidden Persuaders in the 1950s, and sigh that the debate has not moved on. It goes in cycles — the critics start quiet, the rumble rises to a brief crescendo, and then fades away into irrelevance once more.

The rumble is starting to be heard again. But this time I think it is different, for two reasons. First, because this time there's a wider round of soul-searching starting as the financial crisis staggers on, and as China and the East rise in influence. Systemic change is on the agenda, in which every industry will operate fundamentally differently — including, but not limited to, marketing.