Marketing to the impoverished: Developing a model for markets that justly and fairly serve the poor

Nicholas J. C. Santos, Marquette University


As business engagement with impoverished consumers, sometimes characterized as the bottom- or base-of-the-pyramid (BoP) market, increases, an important question that arises is: How can market exchange situations that are directed at such segments be better shaped in order to be "fair" and "just" to both parties (i.e. the business unit and the consumer) but especially the poor? With the task of addressing this question, this project develops a normative ethical framework, labeled the Integrative Justice Model (IJM) for Impoverished Markets. The IJM is constructed using a systematic theory construction approach suggested by the philosopher, John Bishop. The key elements of the model are derived from frameworks of moral philosophy, management theory, and religious doctrine. These frameworks provide substantial evidence for the same set of ethical elements to shape and steer marketer relationships with impoverished consumer segments. Based on these pertinent streams of thought, five characteristics of "just" market situations are developed. In the ideal, each of these elements should be discernable in business organizations when they "fairly" and ethically market to impoverished consumers. These characteristics are: (1) an authentic engagement with non-exploitative intent; (2) co-creation of value; (3) investment in future consumption without endangering the environment; (4) interest representation of all stakeholders; and (5) focus on long-term profit management. Although the IJM is normative in nature, the key elements are connected to real-world examples, thereby, providing organizations that market to the poor, practical benchmarks for conducting their business operations with fairness and equity. Further, these case examples illustrate that organizations are already productively using pieces of the IJM--partial "theories in use"--without necessarily understanding the holistic concept. In order to enhance the pragmatic dimension of the IJM, this project explicates decision principles and suggests implementation strategies for each of the key elements of the model. Finally, the project highlights the contribution of the IJM to the discipline of marketing, points out some of the limitations of the model, and specifies an agenda for future research.

This paper has been withdrawn.