Ethics and Consumer Marketing: Can Happiness Be Bought or Sold?

As Americans continue to battle debt and the economy still sputters, the 19th Annual Stakeholder Dialogue on April 10 featured provocative discussion around the culture of consumerism and its impact on happiness.

Dr. James A. Roberts ’82

Keynote speaker Dr. James A. Roberts ’82, Baylor University marketing professor, researcher and author of Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy, served as the featured speaker at the 2012 Stakeholder Dialogue, sponsored by the Koch Endowed Chair in Business Ethics with collaboration from the Center for Ethical Business Cultures and the Veritas Institute.  More than 250 people were in attendance.

Roberts' lecture, “Can Happiness Be Bought or Sold? An Examination of Ethics and Consumer Marketing,”  provided a sometimes amusing look at how society’s love of material possessions impacts an individual’s happiness and what can be done to find true happiness in a culture awash in the quest for material possessions.

“Overspending is part of our culture. We are constantly bombarded with advertising messages that happiness can be purchased at the mall or on the internet or from a catalog…there’s no end to it,” shared Roberts. "And as we see our impact on the international stage, our number one export may be American consumerism."

Moderated by Michelle Rovang Burke, director of the Veritas Institute at the Opus College of Business, commentaries were offered by Dr. Lisa Abendroth, associate professor of marketing at the Opus College of Business, University of St. Thomas, and Mr. Marc Belton, EVP Global Strategy, Growth and Marketing.  Abendroth’s research has focused on consumer behavior and regret, while Belton’s work for General Mills has centered around the company’s global strategy and marketing functions.

A primary focus of Roberts’ work over the past 10 to 15 years has been the psychology of consumer behavior. His research is largely focused on the “dark side” of consumerism and marketing. Current research efforts focus on the topics of materialism, compulsive buying, credit-card abuse and self-control.

Stakeholder Dialogues are an annual series of events focusing on various groups that have a stake in the business enterprise. They are designed to increase public understanding of issues and encourage ethical action by business organizations.