Marketing the Western Standard

Globalization. It’s the business buzzword of the twenty first century. The possibility of new markets and millions of hungry consumers turning million dollar companies into billion dollar companies is impossible to resist for many corporations. The amount of transnational, multinational, and global corporations has expanded exponentially in the past decades as a result of faster and cheaper communication and transportation. Unfortunately, many of these corporations are expanding into markets without fully understanding the cultural impact of their actions.

Colonialism has been reanimated in the guise of capitalism and marketing of Western products to the non-Western world. In his article Crossing Borders: Globalization As Myth And Charter In American Transnational Consumer Marketing, Kalman Applbaum asserts that transnational corporations (TNCs) are using marketing techniques that destroy culture in the new markets they reach. The primary reason for this is the assumption that all consumers are the same. Economic principles are founded in the belief that consumers will act “rationally” which means, among other things, acquiring more wealth to buy more goods and buying more of lower priced, higher quality goods. This model of rationality is based upon a Western materialistic mindset. It is concerning that the theories of economics are founded in an assumption of human behavior that may only be confined to Western culture.

Furthermore, marketers, believing that all consumers want to follow these rational principles, attempt to sell the ideal of the Western “possessive individualistic” lifestyle to their international audience. Corporations believe that Western products, because of their technological advancement, are able to provide a “superior” quality of life to those in developing countries. Thus, by offering products to these countries businesses are doing a service to humanity by elevating the condition of non-Westerners to a Western standard (all while the corporation is making a hefty profit to be sure). Such a sentiment has an eerie similarity to the claim of the “White Man’s Burden” to educate and civilize the masses used during the colonial era. TNCs use moral arguments such as these to justify and conceal their true motives of profiting from international consumers.

TNCs should be wary of treating all consumers the same because cultural diversity can cause consumers to deviate from the expected behavior. Moreover, in seeking to treat the whole world as one market, TNCs can inadvertently build up Western culture as ideal which leads to cultural homogenization. In marketing, TNCs must be aware of their bias and resist the urge to use Western life as a yardstick by which all other lifestyles are measured.