When Borders Melt

When Borders Melt: An Examination of the Countermarketing Forces Against Globalization

von Joseph Bonnici

As borders come down and national economies fuse together, disenfranchised and marginalized citizens may feel left out of the resulting global blocks. While global marketing expands, so does global countermarketing. Just as political thought evolves out of conflicting opinions, new economic markets are shaped by contradictory forces.

Our research seeks to explore how countermarketing theory could provide a framework for the understanding of the anti-globalization movement which militates against what it perceives as the evil of globalization.

Countermarketing offers insight on how consumers may actively seek to obstruct globalization. The term “countermarketing” was coined by Kotler (1973, p. 47) who described it as “the task of trying to destroy the demand for something.” The word “counter” derived from the Latin word “contra”, meaning “against”, implies that a countermarketing situation involves at least one party which opposes an object, a service or an idea. The countermarketer is in conflict with what he or she opposes. Conflict is the result of incompatible positions.

It is typical of countermarketers to end up in conflict situations. For example, the anti-globalization movement often conflicts with government entities which aspire to open up further international markets. Conflict is the result of incompatible positions and the desire to secure and preserve a position nonetheless. Conflict is highly evident even within traditional marketing situations where competitors vie for the same consumer. Yet, one can suggest that our understanding of conflict in a marketing context is weak at best. Marketers often tend to focus on consumer (instead of competitive) response to marketing actions. The main thrust of marketing textbooks has been on how to build the consumer base, as opposed to how to wreck the competition.

Conflict situations can be difficult to deal with even in a game-theoretic manner (Lillien and Kotler 1983). It is difficult to predict the successive moves on the conflict chessboard. Dolan (1981) remarks that many in marketing feel that game-theory models would solve conflict situations if only some critical mathematical hurdles could be overcome. Rapport (1966) considers this as unlikely. He writes that game theory has “insuperable problems as a prescriptive theory of rational decisions in conflict situations, [therefore] the prescriptive aspect of game theory ought to be written off” (pp. 202-203). Guesswork continues to be a significant variable in forecasting conflict outcomes.

Sometimes, marketing strategists describe conflict as if inspired by military theory (Kotler and Singh 1981, Michaelson 1981, French and Harris 1982, Ries and Trout 1985). Although this approach expands the domains of marketing, its major shortcoming is that it fails to comprehend the psychological and practical differences between military and marketing theory (Enis 1983).

The inevitability of conflict is not the only problem the countermarketer will encounter. In designing a viable strategy, the countermarketer must understand the issue at hand in order to attack the targeted philosophical or economical model. The countermarketer has to adjust his or her strategy and organizational structure to take into account unique countermarketing problems. One problem is to generate an objective that wins popular support. Without popular support, the countermarketer pursues a lost cause. Another problem is the need to inspire the audience with moral courage because the odds may originally be stacked against the countermarketer’s case. The more difficult the task, the more important it is to sort out the third problem which is the need for information. Although the countermarketer can possibly achieve success in more than one way, limited resources tend to restrict his or her strategy. Finally, the countermarketer needs to maintain the initiative in a society where news are transient and public interest fleeting.