“…the future of business lay in its ability to manufacture customers as well as products.”

That’s a quote from an advertising trade publication from the early 1900’s referencing mass production and the shift from scarcity to abundance. It also struck me as what’s often missed about advertising.

Advertising has two (simplified) central components:

1) To convince people to buy your product when they’re interested in the category (I need toothpaste…hmm…what kind should I buy?)

2) To convince people that they should want your product/category when they don’t really. (creating demand where there it previously didn’t exist)

When you think about #1, Google AdWords could come to mind. Google makes their money selling ads based on your perceived intent. If you searched for “web hosting plans,” you’ll see a slew of offers from companies that offer this service. You could say it’s worked out pretty well for them.

#2, the latter is manufacturing customers. It’s been at the core of advertising for years. It summons the culture of guilt, playing on insecurities, and keeping up with the Joneses. It’s exactly the world we live in. When I think about how crassly superficial a global society we’ve become, it seems obvious. I’m often struck by how few marketers understand and/or explicitly think about this division.

I wonder what the Great Global Disaster of ’08 will mean for our consumer culture. Will we step back from the age of abundance to a more rational time of earnings and expenditures? Will advertising and marketing as a whole completely change as a result? As long as there is a choice of products, there will always be marketing. But the kind of marketing is dictated by the times.

This runs a straight line through a few of my previous posts, and this thought stream brought me to reading The Age of Abundance which is a lightly-heavy read. It’s where the intro quote is from.

One Response

  1. I don't think that we are at a point yet where advertising and marketing have to change completely. The wealthy will always be a market for the second category of goods you described above. But will the middle class? and for how long if the economy continues to struggle? I don't know the exact numbers but I would say the middle class has already started pulling back on luxury purchases. You can get a clear indication of that at the local mall, especially the premium brands(Louis Vutton etc.).

    The question though is, have the middle class come to their senses where they will never go back to these premium items? Thus necessitating a change in the way things are advertised and marketed? Not anytime soon and if you ask me probably never. i don't think we are ever going back to the good old days where people only bought things they needed. Not with the pop culture generation coming up next. The only way this will happen is the economy completely goes in the tank. I am talking great depression levels. Otherwise this is just a speed-bump in the age of abundance. Atleast I hope so.

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