The need for an ethnographer to be completely free of expectations when looking at foreign cultures directly connects to marketing to bottom of the pyramid consumers. The ethical issues that arise when marketers discuss targeting these below poverty line consumers are abundant, one of which is the question asked in Pralahad’s Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: “Are the poor, poor?”
These poor consumers, especially in India, are being touted as a huge opportunity for brands to target, but in doing so, the ethical marketing debate of actual needs vs. needs created by marketing begins again. We have learned thus far, that the most efficient way to market products to consumers is to customize those products and the marketing thereof to their wants, needs, and most importantly, culture and values. Ethically, advertisers are expected to market products that the targeted consumer needs or would be interested in. But, the ethical issues increase exponentially when targeting these extremely poor consumers, for they have no experience with marketing efforts and are therefore assumed to be much more vulnerable and gullible.
However, some believe that all consumers have a right to know all the products that are in the marketplace, whether or not they can afford them. So, when it comes to marketing to these bottom of the pyramid consumers, are they missing out by not knowing about expensive luxury products that fulfill psychological needs or is marketing for these products unethical in having the potential to convince these poor consumers to buy luxury products instead of basic survival products like food and shelter?
It’s all relative. Any descriptor term is relative. The poor are not poor without the rich. So, in questioning whether or not the poor are poor, I wondered when poor Indians spotted us white tourists, do they think they’re poor?