Monday, March 14, 2005

As long as you're comfortable it feels like freedom.

Here is an example of the first kind of marketing that bugs me. In a commercial I heard this weekend, two guys are hanging out at a game, and one is depressed as all get out. It seems he is buried in debt and tired of living paycheck to paycheck. His friend says he knows how he feels. Guy #1 is astonished: he has always believed that Guy #2 has his economic shit together. (I know: I was amazed to hear that word on the radio, too.) But no no no, Guy #2 reveals: he had shared Guy #1's situation. But he has solved all his financial woes by getting a loan against his home equity. Now he has only one easy payment!

Great, said the PP. Now instead of not giving you more credit, they take your house!

And here is an example of the second kind of marketing that bugs me. Again a commercial. Why use a mop and bucket to clean your tiled floor, when you can buy the new Clean-o-matic Super-Jet-o-rama! It has a little receptacle for cleaning fluid and a disposable cleaning pad. Cleaning has never been so simple! The Super-Jet-o-rama retails for $15.99, fluid refills (good for 5 cleanings) for $12.99, and a pack of 10 replacement pads only $9.99! So now instead of one easy purchase of mop and bucket that lasts years, you continually repurchase your cleaning power.

And it is so much easier!

I think I can sum up the third kind of marketing that bugs me in two words: Tooth Whitener.

All of which to say, my question a while back about marketing was motivated by a profound sense that marketing generates a great deal of what is wrong (my humble) with our consumer-based culture. Marketing frequently presents non-solutions as if they were solutions, cost-increasing-and-sustaining programs as if they were improvements, and products to solve non-problems. In short, in a culture based on consumption, consumption must continue and increase in order for the culture to function. That means new needs must be created, and real solutions--like, maybe Guy #1 does not need to keep buying so much useless crap--cannot be considered.

I buy the notion that advertising underwrites products. I also buy that advertising can make economies more profitable to consumers by keeping prices low. But so much of marketing seems to be based on duping people into making bad decisions, that I wonder how one can defend it.


Tim said...

Good examples of marketing run amok.

And yet, there are some cases where products (like the second one) both fill a legitimate need--think toilet brushes with flushable heads, to mitigate the spread of germs--and require you to "continuously repurchase your cleaning power."

As a product manager and therefore a marketer, I guess I have to step up to the plate, but I haven't had enough coffee to be really articulate in the defense of marketing. I'll just point out that you seem to be conflating marketing with advertising. And yes, frequently advertising is called on to get you to buy something that doesn't solve your problem. But product definition, which is also part of marketing, is about identifying customer needs and desires and creating products to match.

To the extent that advertising promotes products that don't fill needs, I would argue that there's been a breakdown on the product marketing side of the equation.

Anonymous said...

Well, you could think about it from the positive side. This advertising is the result of outstanding economic and manufacturing capacity. We have the luxury of cranking out so much miscellaneous shit and providing so many uneeded services. We just have to endure someone trying to sell it.

In a history of science class I took, we started talking about some scientist as a boy (perhaps it was Kepler) playing with a rock tied to the end of a string. (Not to be confused with a rock to wind a piece of string around (or a prosthetic forehead for that matter)). This apparently was quite popular with the kids of that day. They spun the rock around. For fun. Yep. Hours of fun. I worry about the avalanche of crap that's gonna come crashing down, but at least I'm not bored shitless spinning a rock around.

Horvus Callithumper