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Up and Out of Poverty
Philip Kotler adapts social marketing techniques to confront the challenge of global poverty

  Philip Kotler

In his long and fruitful career, Kellogg Professor Philip Kotler has brought the tools of marketing to bear on a broad range of topics, including healthcare, nonprofits, the arts and tourism. 

But none of these issues has had the scope and complexity of his most recent concern: the plight of the world's poor, an issue he calls "disgraceful."

"We have not been fighting poverty the right way," says Kotler, whose book, Up and Out of Poverty: The Social Marketing Solution (Wharton School Publishing), was published in June. "We've been throwing money at the problem, and the money is often wasted."

Kotler has written dozens of books on marketing in addition to his classic textbook Marketing Management. Up and Out of Poverty, co-authored by social marketing expert Nancy R. Lee, comes fast on the heels of another book, Chaotics: The Business of Managing and Marketing in the Age of Turbulence (AMACOM), which was published in May.

In Up and Out of Poverty, Kotler envisions a future in which business executives solve social problems by finding profit-making solutions. An example of this approach might be, "'I'm a soybean farmer, but my larger purpose is to find ways to reduce world hunger,'" Kotler says. "The new orientation would be to consider a larger context in the lives we lead."

In a similar vein, businesses can reevaluate their take on the poor and see them as an attractive market. Kotler notes in his book that the world's "extreme and moderate poor have buying power equal to $8 billion per day. The poor want so many goods that the problem of global overcapacity and recession should be reframed as the problem of under-consumption."

Kotler and Lee assess the many approaches to reducing poverty, including traditional large-scale foreign aid, improved education and job training, economic development and microfinance. They show how to apply advanced marketing strategies and techniques, including segmentation, targeting and positioning, to establish the conditions the poor need to improve their lives. Case studies illustrate how these techniques can promote health, education, community building, personal motivation and other positive outcomes.

Kotler and Lee also offer the first complete, marketing-informed methodology for addressing specific poverty-related problems and assessing the results.

Kotler notes that the global recession has only added to the number of the world's poor. In 2000, the World Bank and the United Nations set a goal of cutting the poverty rate in half by 2015. "They're not going to make it," Kotler says. "People have been laid off and are conserving and spending less. That means less demand, production and employment.

"It's disgraceful how extensive (poverty) has been historically and today," Kotler adds. "You have pockets of poverty that have their own sustaining dynamics."

But Kotler draws hope from recent public-health campaigns that have led to municipal bans on smoking and the elimination of soft drinks and junk food from many school lunch programs.

"Marketing has worked so well in the commercial sector," Kotler notes. "It leads us to think, 'What kinds of incentives, appeals and disincentives can be put together as a mix to convince people that they can gain value from changing their behavior?'"

Up and Out of Poverty takes on that question, promising a fresh approach to one of humanity's most intractable problems.            – Sandra Guy

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