SS13. Sleeping with the Enemy: Marketing's Role in Shaping Post-Growth Realities

The panel “Sleeping with the Enemy: Marketing’s Role in Shaping Post-Growth Realities” intends to explore the transformative potential of marketing in a world facing a confluence of crisis. We want to underscore the power of marketing to make ideas politically inevitable. As society grapples with the urgent need for sustainable, degrowth-oriented approaches, we call for a shift in marketing’s traditional principles.
While marketing has historically thrived on promoting growth and consumerism, we believe that it can be harnessed to promote degrowth values, ecological economics and alternative business models aligned with degrowth agenda. This unique perspective challenges the notion that marketing is the adversary of degrowth and true sustainability, showcasing a growing cohort of marketing professionals willing to align their efforts with radical sustainability agendas.

  • Expected proposals format: conventional panel contributions
  • Keywords: sustainable marketing, degrowth, post-growth, communication, post-growth business models, sustainable advertising 
  • Related track(s): 11. Enabling radical change and institutional transformation / 12. Transformative businesses and organizations in a postgrowth context
  • Organizers: Lütshg, Adrian (About Tomorrow Consulting, Switzerland), Randle, Paul (PIckle Consulting, UK), Feldthus, Marcus (Post Growth Guide, Denmark), Eyre, Alexis (Green Eyre Consulting, UK)

Full description

Only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, we believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”1 Was it written by one of the leading post-growth researchers? Maybe it’s a paragraph taken from the Green Party’s program? Not exactly. These are the words of Milton Friedman, from the Preface to Capitalism and Freedom, first published in 1962. He understood very well how the mechanisms of capitalism function and how marketing should be harnessed to promote neoliberal ideology. And when the crisis came, he and his colleagues were ready to reshape the world.

We quote Friedman, because his words bring hope. All too often we hear that degrowth may be a very interesting and much needed idea but it is politically impossible to implement it, as the general public and politicians will never abandon the paradigm of growth. We should not forget that neoliberalism, the ideology that created the world as we know it, had once been a radical concept discussed by a small group of intellectuals. But then marketing joined the party. Friedman used all possible means to communicate it and to spread it among the general public. Books, interviews, TV appearances, newspaper op-eds, a documentary even. Deploying marketing, advertising and communication techniques, Friedman made his ideas “available” when they became “politically inevitable”. 

Today, the world is on brink of perfect storm of crises, and “the ideas are lying around”. Now we have to make them publicly and politically “available”. And to achieve that we should reach for proven and highly efficient methods of marketing and communication. Marketing is a highly sophisticated, data and technology driven industry worth $740bn a year. Yet despite its willingness to adopt innovative technologies such as radio, TV, digital, data and increasingly AI, marketing has failed to innovate its core principles and strategic frameworks. The customer is always right and the Four P’s of marketing (Product, Price, Place and Promotion) have been tweaked but not changed. 

This places it at odds with a society seeking to be sustainable or addressing the challenges of degrowth. It is an industry of growth. One that has been highly successful, whilst still being grossly inefficient in its own right. It has established aspirational lifestyles and architected consumer demand that is wholly unsustainable, yet so powerful embedded that many of its concepts have become established as cultural norms, for example, the twin car family or the need to buy a diamond to express love. 

Yet, marketing has a role to play. The need to address the irrational human with imperfect knowledge still exists in a sustainable society. Marketing has the potential to influence behaviour positively. The organizers of this special panel, seasoned marketing and communication practitioners, believe that marketing could promote not only degrowth academic research and degrowth societal and cultural values, but also alternative business models, based on degrowth and ecological economics principles. We are aware that marketing is perceived as the enemy of everything degrowth stands for. However, there are more and more marketing professionals out there, who are ready to work hand in hand with degrowth and sustainability scholars and to be “less like Elon Musk and more like Extinction Rebellion or Greta Thunberg in order to bring a radical sustainability agenda to the core of the marketing discipline.”

We would like to discuss marketing’s role in shaping degrowth and post-growth realities in a special open panel, inviting the representatives of academia to share their opinions with the organizers and the public. It would be a conventional parallel session, lasting 90 minutes. However, the format should be an open discussion of panellists, supported by questions from the audience. In the panel we would like to discuss the new role of marketing in three areas: environment, society and commerce. Marketing should be protecting the environment and should aid its restoration through responsible consumption, redesigned production and respect for the true value nature delivers. On the societal level, marketing needs to help humans fulfil their potential in dignity, equality and in a healthy world. In commerce marketing’s mission should be partnering with the citizens shaping behaviour that supports new emerging economic models (eg. not-for-profit business with a focus on human well-being rather than profitability).

Our panel’s ambition is to present an outline of this evolution and to discuss main challenges marketing is facing while making this radical pivot. We also would like to discuss how marketing can help shift cultural values by showing alternatives to productivism and consumerism. Creating new, pro-degrowth narratives should be one of the main tasks of the new marketing. 

Only once the general purpose of marketing changes, one can use its tools to convincingly promote degrowth and the social change it postulates. By mentioning selling diamonds and promoting degrowth in one paragraph, we didn’t mean using neutral set of techniques that can be applied to any domain. Instead, we wanted to underline that humans will remain irrational with limited and imperfect knowledge even in the new post-growth reality and that there will be a great need to reconceptualise key social concepts. Marketing can be a useful tool in this process, provided it has gone through the fundamental change we mentioned above.

This proposal is created by four marketing practitioners and authors. The suggested maximum size of the panel should be limited to six persons. It would be a conventional parallel session, lasting 90 minutes. We would like to discuss marketing’s role in shaping degrowth and post-growth realities in a special open panel, inviting the representatives of academia to share their opinions with the organizers and the public. Our idea is to keep the panel open to some critical voices from academia. We hope to have a lively debate and expect a fair amount of criticism from the degrowth researchers. 


  • Friedman, M., & Friedman, R. D. (2002). Capitalism and freedom. 40th Anniversary Edition. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.
  • Lloveras, J. Marshall, A.P.; Vandeventer, J.S. & Pansera, M. (2022): Sustainability ‬marketing ‭ ‬beyond ‭ ‬sustainable ‭ ‬development: ‭ ‬towards ‭ ‬a ‭ ‬degrowth ‭ ‬agenda, ‭ Journal ‭ ‬of ‭ ‬Marketing ‬Management‭, ‭38 (17-18), pp. 2055-‭2077‬. DOI: 10.1080/0267257X.2022.2084443