Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Sowing Discontent

Marketers largely depend on the discontent of the public: it is only because a person is unhappy that the marketer finds an opportunity to offer him something that will make him happy, or at least dispel that particular cause of unhappiness – whether it is a problem that disrupts and otherwise happy status quo or an opportunity to elevate the status quo to a happier state.

It is in this respect that marketers are accused of creating “false needs,” though that is a general aspersion that assumes that all products serve no purpose.  This is not necessarily the case, and it is not usually the case: most products that have any sort of longevity provide a valid solution to a valid need, and those who make such accusations generally presume themselves to be qualified to asses what other people ought to have.

But in some instances, the accusation does seem to hold merit: the vast majority of goods sold in developed markets are not necessities that serve basic survival needs, but conveniences and luxuries that serve more abstract and psychological needs.   To say that a need is psychological rather than physical does not invalidate it, but merely relegates it to a class of need that most would agree is of less importance than physical survival needs.

A person who is completely content with their status quo is not a prospect with a great deal of potential.   They are not in a buying mood right now, and are not likely to be in a buying mood until they deplete their stock of some product that contributes to their contentment.   Their purchasing behavior is limited to restocking existing products, generally with existing brands, so long as they continue to be contented with the results.

So contentment is the state of being in which a man is free of all cares and does not feel compelled to do anything.  Unless something external causes conditions to change in an unsatisfactory manner, or unless he imagines conditions that would suit him better, he remains entirely inert.

And so it follows that only a discontented person is susceptible to marketing: his discontent is the motivational factor that generates with him an interest in taking some action to restore or achieve contentment – and where the action requires the consumption of a good or service, he is a prospective buyer of that good or service.

The discontented are easy targets for marketing – but discontentment is available in limited supply.   It is for that reason that marketers seek to sow discontentment – to present to otherwise contented individuals the prospect that they should not be so complacent about their current situation – or at the very least should feel discontent because there exists an opportunity to achieve greater contentment.   Whether this is ethical depends on the validity if the argument.

In the end, any commercial enterprise (or for that matter, nonprofits and governmental organizations) succeeds by providing a product that alleviates discontent – and where discontent does not exist, it must be created in order to the organization to have a purpose.

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