Consequences of innovation

When product diffusion (acceptance) occurs, a process of social change may also occur. One issue frequently raised concerns the consequences of the changes that happen within a social system as a result of acceptance of an innovation. The marketer seeking product diffusion and adoption may inadvertently bring about change that affects the very fabric of a social system. Consequences of diffusion of an innovation may be functional or dysfunctional depending on whether the effects on the social system are desirable or undesirable. In most instances, the marketer’s concern is with perceived functional consequences – the positive benefits of product use. In deed in most situations innovative products for which the marketer purposely sets out to gain cultural acceptance have minimal if any dysfunctional consequences but that cannot be taken for granted.

On the surface, it would appear that the introduction of a processed feeding formula into the die of babies in undeveloped countries where protein deficiency is a health problem would have all the functional consequences of better nutrition and health stronger and faster growth. Much evidence however suggests that in many situations the dysfunctional consequences far exceeded the benefits. In Nicaragua (and numerous other developing countries) as the result of the introduction of the formula a significant number of babies annually were changed from breast feeding to bottle feeding before the age of Six months. In the United States with appropriate refrigeration and sanitation standards a similar pattern exists with no apparent negative consequences. In Nicaragua, however where sanitation methods are inadequate a substantial increase in dysentery and diarrhea and a much higher infant mortality rate resulted.

A change from beats feeding to bottle feeding at an early age without the user’s complete understanding of purification had caused dysfunctional consequences. This was the result of two factors: the impurity of the water used with the formula and the loss of the natural immunity to childhood diseases that a mother’s milk provides. This was a case of planned change that resulted in devastating consequences. The infant formula companies set out to purposely change traditional breast feeding to bottle feeding. Advertising promotions of infant formula using testimonials from nurses and midwives, and abundant free samples were used to encourage a change in behavior. It was a very successful marketing program, but the consequences are unintentionally dysfunctional. An international boycott of infant formula products by several groups resulted in the company agreeing to alter its marketing programs to encourage breast feeding. The problem first occurred some 30 years ago and is still causing trouble for the company. The consequences of the introduction of an innovation can be serious for society and the company responsible whether the act was intentional or not.

Some marketers may question their responsibility beyond product safety as far as the consequences of their role as change agents are concerned. The marketer has responsibility for the dysfunctional results of marketing efforts whether intentional or not. Foreign marketers may cause cultural changes that can create dysfunctional consequences. If proper analysis indicates that negative results can be anticipated from the acceptance of an innovative, it is the responsibility of the marketer to design programs not only to gain acceptance but also to eliminate any negative cultural effects.