Markets of the Poor: Limits and Opportunities

Markets of the Poor: Limits and Opportunities

Authored by: Aneel Karnani

The ‘base of the pyramid’ (BOP) proposition, famously popularized by C.K. Prahalad and other business gurus, assumes that there is much-untapped purchasing power at the base of the pyramid, and urges companies to make a fortune by serving the poor masses.
The Economist magazine, given its market-oriented ideology, has been a strong advocate of the BOP proposition. On the opposite side, I have long been a skeptic, and in my book Fighting Poverty Together I argue that while private companies should try to market to the poor, the profit opportunities are modest at best and I suggest a cautious approach. In a recent article ‘The limits of frugality: Making things cheaper is not the same as making profits’ The Economist starts to walk back from its earlier support of the BOP proposition.

The Economist article acknowledges that it is politically correct for many executives to espouse the BOP proposition, because it serves an ideological purpose by showing that capitalism is inclusive, rather than only for the middle classes. “Whether their firms profit as a result is less clear.” The article goes on to cite examples of several firms in a variety of industries including mobile telephony, consumer goods, insurance, and consumer finance that have failed to profit from targeting the poor.

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