Can Peace be Marketed?

Philip Kotler
14 min readOct 13, 2022
Photo by Daniel Mingook Kim on Unsplash

Can Peace be Marketed?

Philip Kotler and Christian Sarkar

I have a Japanese friend, Mitsu Shibata, who contacts me regularly to help build more peace in the world. He refers to the time in 2016 when I was invited to visit Hiroshima to give a major address at a peace conference. The conference was well attended by businesspeople, academics and students. We featured a book containing a number of thought pieces on peace making.

My involvement in thinking about peace making occurred earlier. At a dinner in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in October 2010, the young son of a prominent Saudi Arabian family took me aside and posed a question. “Professor Kotler, you have marketed many products and ideas. You have run many marketing campaigns for causes. You are well-known for your work in social marketing and social responsibility. I wonder why you have not run a marketing campaign to bring more peace into the world. I hope that you will do that next.”

I am still trying to figure out if a peacemaking marketing campaign is possible, and how it might look. The situation is as follows:

1. Several wars are going on, the most horrific has been Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Neither the world leaders of peaceful countries, nor the United Nations, seem to have a remedy to stop these wars.

2. Most citizens of the world want peace, including the citizens living in warring countries.

3. Peace groups abound in the world. Unfortunately, they work independently of each other rather than forming a sufficient force to influence public opinion.

4. Businesses are the great beneficiaries of a peaceful world. They are designed to meet human needs with effective solutions as long as supplies are readily available and affordable.

The Root Causes of Conflict. Hate is a major root cause of intense conflict. There are several levels of hate as shown by the “pyramid of hate” — initially developed by the Anti-Defamation League. Minor insults can escalate and turn into conflict and even genocide. Understanding the root causes of war is the first step to promoting peace.

The escalation process of hate can also be depicted as a systems-map[i] to better understand the connections between individual acts of violence and the escalation to institutional violence:

All conflicts start with separation — the exclusion of one set of people from the rest. This is the easy trap of nationalism — which begins as “patriotism” and “pride” and can be turned into exclusion and hate against the other — a group of people who are lumped together using a cultural dimension of difference like religion, beliefs, ideology, nationality, or other dimensions. Major root causes of conflict include[ii]:

· political, economic, and social inequalities.

· extreme poverty.

· economic stagnation.

· poor government services.

· high unemployment.

· environmental degradation; and

· individual (economic) incentives to fight

These root causes of conflict can be used to unite or divide people based on narratives promoted by the dominant factions in a society. When individual and institutional acts of violence are exploited for political gain, we must call it misleadership.

What is important to note is that the “cultural dimensions” of conflict are often artificial constructs. For example, many ethnic identities in the developing world today were “invented” by the colonial powers for administrative purposes and have only weak origins in precolonial times.[iii]

An explanation[iv]:

Many groups of people who fight together perceive themselves as belonging to a common culture (ethnic or religious), and part of the reason that they are fighting may be to maintain their cultural autonomy. For this reason, there is a tendency to attribute wars to “primordial” ethnic passions, which makes them seem intractable. This view is not correct, however, and diverts attention from important underlying economic and political factors.

In wars, political leaders may deliberately “rework historical memories” to engender or strengthen identity in the competition for power and resources. Examples include:

· Nazis in Germany

· Hutus in Rwanda

· Taliban in Afghanistan

· Ndebele in Zimbabwe

For two thousand years, antisemitism has been marketed by groups who either believed that Jews killed Jesus Christ or that Jews have too much power in the world. In the U.S., the white supremacy movement has continued from the nation’s beginning.

Political parties in different countries often picture the other party in the most extreme way. The U.S. Republican party stylizes Democrats as being soft on crime, in love with socialism, and attacking family values. The Democrats see the Republicans as anti-choice, anti-labor, and anti-gay. The aim is to get citizens to hate the other party. Today the U.S. is torn into two hate groups, the “reds” who are pro-Trump and the “blues” who are liberal or socialist. María José Carmona describes the difference between anger and hate:

Hate is not the same as anger. They look similar, but they are not the same. Anger is a simple, spontaneous emotion, a survival instinct that we share with the rest of the animal world. Hate, on the other hand, is a complex feeling that is built, nurtured, that needs time and intention.

What elevates hate and conflict to war? In the U.S., the white supremacy movement has continued from the nation’s beginning. Studies show that four economic hypotheses explain intra-state wars. We note that these hypotheses are not mutually exclusive[v]:

1. Group motivation hypothesisSince intra-state wars mainly consist of fighting between groups, group motives, resentments, and ambitions provide motivation for war. Groups may be divided along cultural or religious lines, by geography, or by class. Group differences only become worth fighting for, however, if there are other important differences between groups, particularly in the distribution and exercise of political and economic power.

2. Private motivation hypothesis — War confers benefits on individuals as well as costs which can motivate people to fight. Young uneducated men, in particular, may gain employment as soldiers. War also generates opportunities to loot, profiteer from shortages and from aid, trade arms, and carry out illicit production and trade in drugs, diamonds, timber, and other commodities.

3. Failure of the social contractThis derives from the view that social stability is based on a hypothetical social contract between the people and the government. People accept state authority so long as the state delivers services and provides reasonable economic conditions (employment and incomes). High and rising levels of poverty and a decline in state services would be expected to cause conflict.

4. Green war hypothesisThis points to environmental degradation as a source of poverty and cause of conflict. For example, rising population pressure and falling agricultural productivity may lead to land disputes. Growing scarcity of water may provoke conflict.

Factors Affecting the Level of Peace in the World

We should ask ourselves a few questions about war to understand better what must be done to create the conditions for peace:

- What can be done to stop the root causes of conflict and to mitigate their effects?

- Who profits from war?

- What is the role of governments in promoting conflict between people?

- How does hate destroy social cohesion and escalate into war?

- Who is promoting hate? Who profits from hate and division?

- How do individual acts of violence become institutionalized?

- What can be done to teach peace instead of hate?

- Why are our politicians doing so little to stop this?

Peace is more likely to take place in a world of increasing prosperity. When companies grow and start selling their products and services abroad, they take an interest in other countries and the continued peace in other countries. These companies are likely to import more as well as export more. Trade produces more interdependencies among businesses and nations. Trade works best when nations minimize tariffs, quotas and other impediments to trade. It also works best when workers are not exploited, the environment is not degraded, and wealth building happens not just at the top, but also at the community level. Globalization failed because it was too extractive. We must act now to make the economy regenerative — protecting Nature, people, and communities.

Peace also works better when various countries establish diplomatic relations with other countries so that their competing interests can be harmonized to the satisfaction of both parties. Countries must recruit the very best diplomats to carry forward their country’s interests. Unfortunately, too many countries assign diplomatic posts to their largest donors who often accept the position while having little knowledge or skill.

Peace can be improved if nations better regulate the arms industry. We must end the license to profit from war. The public must be told what wars cost. They must also be told what we are giving up so that we can go to war — healthcare, education, renewable energy, and the shift to a regenerative economy.

In the US, Pentagon spending has totaled over $14 trillion since the start of the war in Afghanistan, with one-third to one-half of the total going to military contractors. A large portion of these contracts — one-quarter to one-third of all Pentagon contracts in recent years — have gone to just five major corporations: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman. The $75 billion in Pentagon contracts received by Lockheed Martin in fiscal year 2020 is well over one and one-half times the entire budget for the State Department and Agency for International Development for that year, which totaled $44 billion.[vi]

When was the last time the Pentagon was audited? Shouldn’t the public know how and where their tax dollars are being spent? To be clear: the Pentagon failed its comprehensive audit in fiscal 2020, the third year it has failed since the first audit was conducted in 2018, reflecting system and accounting problems across its vast bureaucracy that could persist until 2027.[vii]

In the business world, we often use zero-based budgeting — a budgeting method where all expenses must be justified and approved in each new budget period. Why can’t the Pentagon do the same?

Armament makers and military contractors have a built-in-interest in pressuring countries to build up their military strength. Armament makers describe a nation’s competitors as building plans to attack or hurt the nation. They continuously lobby for arming the nation better. The gun industry itself is a major enemy of peace. The industry profits when it gets all citizens to buy guns for self-protection. The gun industry profits further if they can get citizens to buy AK 47s.

The movie industry produces too many films involving guns, murder and wars, in some cases glorifying these battles. The movie industry produces few films featuring peace heroes and their work.

The media industry is to blame as well. We don’t allow true voices of dissent to appear on national TV. In his latest book, The Greatest Evil is War, Chris Hedges tells us the story of Tomas Young[viii] — one of the first veterans to publicly oppose the war in Iraq. He fought as long and as hard as he could against the war that crippled him, until his physical deterioration caught up with him. His death and the death of millions go unnoticed.

Our politicians rely on donations from the arms contractors and their PACS to raise funds for their campaigns. Why would they voluntarily stop the arms contractors?

Towards Some Solutions

Every year, events take place that put peace temporarily in the minds of people. On September 21, the UN annually invites all nations and people to honor the International Day of Peace with a cessation that day of hostilities. The Day of Peace has been occurring for 41 years and was the reason the world established the United Nations in 1945.

Since 1901, the five member Norwegian Nobel Peace Committee announce in October the winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Prizes are awarded to those who have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”. In 2022, the committee had to choose winners from a list of 343 candidates (252 individuals and 92 organizations) who might deserve 2022 Peace prizes. The final ceremony takes place on December 10 and gets the world’s attention for the moment.

Hiroshima, the City of Peace, actively promotes each year the idea of peace. Hiroshima built a large space and memorial park to attract peace conferences and summits. Governor Yuzaki hosts a group of international diplomats, academics and policy makers as part of the “Hiroshima for Global Peace Plan.” The city has trained more than 5,000 people from over 60 countries, who have come to experience Hiroshima’s message of peace and learn from its post-conflict reconstruction. Hiroshima’s peace plan is a set of concrete action plans that will free the world of nuclear weapons and promote sustainable peace in regions torn apart by violent conflicts.

In 2007, Norwegian businesses organized the Business for Peace Foundation in Oslo with the intention that all business leaders see improving society as their core purpose. Each year, the foundation names up to seven honorees who receive the Oslo Business for Peace Award in recognition of their individual and business-worthy contribution to the building of trust, stability and peace. A summit is held that includes keynote presentations, debates, and roundtable discussions featuring business leaders and experts from several fields. The event serves to accelerate the Foundation’s vision to recognize, inspire and accelerate business worthy leadership.

Let us also note the peace roles played by great world leaders who we are reminded of several times each year. Jesus Christ symbolizes the message of love to be given to all friends and strangers. Mahatma Gandhi taught the world how to meet anger and hate with civil disobedience and peaceful resistance. We revere the wonderful messages of Martin Luther King who called for honoring all races of mankind and serving them with social justice.

The Need for More Active Intervention

Peace will not be won by words alone. Peace will be won by hard work to mediate and resolve areas of major conflict. These areas are easy to identify:

· Israel/Palestine

· Russia/the West

· China/United States

· India/Pakistan

· Iran/Saudi Arabia

· Syria

· Ethiopia

· Yemen

The map below shows the major areas of current conflict in the world, including drug wars, ethnic violence, and terrorism.

My strong feeling is that the United Nations, an organization established specifically for peacemaking, needs to redesign itself. The UN should set up responsible planning groups for each area of conflict. Each planning group would include affected nations, businesses, experts and others. Each group reports yearly on their progress in reducing conflict.

A further move is that the UN should contain a strong military force that is ready to oppose any nation that attacks another nation. The UN can rally other nations to add troops to stop the conflict.

How to pay for this UN force? UN member nations would contribute money to build this UN peacekeeping force and benefit by spending less on building their own military establishment. In addition, the UN would seek substantial donations from the richest individuals and businesses who believe in the importance of peace.

To promote peace further, we must:

- educate people of how money spent on war is public money not spent on the common good

- show the connections between our politicians, the arms lobby and war profits

- callout the unaccountability of the Pentagon (when was the last audit?)

- listen to the voices of dissent — the veterans who gave everything

- show the public the effects of war (much like the anti-tobacco campaigns showed us the effects of smoking on our lungs).

At an individual level we must escalate peace. Here is our “pyramid of peace” — one tool for building understanding:

We must create a pathway to peace:

The Larger Question

Achieving peace through developing a larger peacemaking force at the United Nations would only provide a partial solution. It might bring about peace but peace by itself is not enough. A dictator can take over a conflicted country and impose peace. The country might even gain prosperity. But it would be peace without two other ingredients, namely freedom and social justice. Just pursuing peace without freedom and social justice is not enough.

Social justice is a problem whenever a large group in the population go hungry and are ill-clothed and ill-housed, especially in the presence of great and growing wealth among the few. Many nations suffer from high- and growing-income disparity. Many problems in society stem from the injustice of over-concentrated wealth. Social problems are difficult to resolve because the rich are able to choose and manage the elected representatives. Social democracy dies under great income and wealth concentration.

Pursuing peace by itself omits too much from the full picture. What is needed is a richer model of the kind of society the world needs. Much of the debate is between conservatives who want minimum government and regulation and liberals who want an active government and regulation. I believe that economic prosperity can be achieved under both models. Consider Sweden and Switzerland. Both countries have a similar size population. Both countries have a long history of peace by being neutral. Both countries have profitable global companies. Citizens in both countries score high in happiness, health, and education. The two countries do differ in their attitude toward wealth distribution. Sweden historically has operated as a liberal democracy, making sure that everyone lives well. Switzerland has operated as a conservative democracy, putting more of a premium on safety and tradition. As two successful nations, they provide evidence that the issue isn’t so much liberalism or conservatism as long as both can provide peace, freedom and social justice.

Now, more than ever, we must transform our economic system from an extractive to a regenerative economy — one that builds community wealth and creates a climate of trust in our institutions, in our leaders, and most of all in each other. To do this will require a new kind of regenerative politics.

Other Possible Peacemaking Investments and Activities

Various institutions are capable to acting in the interests of peacemaking. Among them are religious institutions, educational institutions, businesses and government agencies.

Religious institutions by and large profess to value peace and love. Religious leaders deliver sermons calling for members to be good persons, giving and sharing with others. Many sermons talk against actions of bigotry, hate and anger. Hopefully, more religious leaders will sign up to support peace events and encourage their members to do the same.

Educational institutions aim to raise young people with positive attitudes toward others. Educational leaders and teachers should spot early signs of bullying or hate behavior and try to understand the sources underlying these negative behaviors. Families of these students should be alerted and urged to discourage these behaviors. Classroom material should highlight issues of bad behavior and propose remedies.

Businesses are adversely affected by bad behavior and intergroup conflict. Many businesses sign up and support campaigns to make a better world. The peace movement might develop a sign called “Companies for Peace” and urge companies to show this sign in their media work.

Government might undertake a more active role in rooting out hate behavior. Government can encourage citizens to report hate behavior and urge media to deny publication of racial or ethnic hate talk. Government might also develop a Peace Index to track the peace level for any city, state, or nation. When the Peace Index declines in a place, the government and citizens can undertake a set of actions to restore and improve the level of peace.

Final Thoughts

I worry sometimes that promoting world peace might be naïve. Most societies will continue to have people acting with anger, hate, greed, and jealousy. Christians have preached for 2000 years about the importance of loving other human beings. Yet negative emotions and behaviors persist.

We need to believe that by pursuing the forces of good and trying to diminish the forces for bad that peacemaking activities can reduce the level of conflict. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were never discouraged. The pursuit of peaceful coexistence is too important not to be pursued.

[i] See: (The Wicked7 Project)

[ii] Stewart F. Root causes of violent conflict in developing countries. BMJ. 2002 Feb 9;324(7333):342–5.
Doi: 10.1136/bmj.324.7333.342. PMID: 11834564; PMCID: PMC1122271.

[iii] Ranger T. The invention of tradition in colonial Africa. In: Hobsbawm E, Ranger T, editors. The invention of tradition. Cambridge: Canto; 1983. pp. 211–262. [Google Scholar]

[iv] Stewart F. Root causes of violent conflict in developing countries. BMJ. 2002 Feb 9;324(7333):342–5.
Doi: 10.1136/bmj.324.7333.342. PMID: 11834564; PMCID: PMC1122271.

[v] Stewart F. Root causes of violent conflict in developing countries. BMJ. 2002 Feb 9;324(7333):342–5.
Doi: 10.1136/bmj.324.7333.342. PMID: 11834564; PMCID: PMC1122271.






Philip Kotler

Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson and Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University (emeritus)