Sunday, April 25, 2010

In Defense of Marketing

Marketing is the attempt by someone to convince someone else of something. It is first an attempt, because it involves a deliberate effort by someone—a person—to reach a desired goal. This goal is to convince, or change the preferences of, someone else—another person—to accept something, or to conform to the desires of the first person. All communication is marketing. Without it, cohabitation is impossible. A situation in which one person communicating with another is not in some way marketing to that person is inconceivable. If anything, the sender is always trying to convince the receiver that what he or she has to communicate is important, or else it will have never been communicated in the first place.

As a matter of fact, this idea of the inescapability of marketing can be taken a step further. Conscious decision-making is impossible without marketing. Whenever a choice is made by a person, he or she is marketing to him or herself the benefit of that choice. Without marketing, therefore, we are reduced to animalistic beings incapable of conscious thought. I concede my assumption that human beings are not incapable of conscious thought but are rather—at least to a minimal extent—dependent on conscious thought. With this assumption in mind, the first claim that must be made about marketing is that it is neither good nor evil, but merely a reality.

The chicken-or-egg question of who is marketing to who really boils down to who the first human being was to attempt communication with another. Producers will say that they are merely reflecting what has already been marketed to them by consumers through marketing research. Consumers will say that they are the ones being told what they should buy. Who is right? The truth is that we are locked in an unstoppable and indecipherable loop of marketing back and forth to one another. It is a constant cycle of offer-counter offer that cannot end until we simply stop communicating with one another.

One objection to marketing is that it convinces people to buy things that they don’t need. If they needed something, after all, they would go out and get it. There are a few holes in this argument. First, I will make the claim that there is a false distinction in this case between ‘wants’ and ‘needs.’ There really is no difference, other than perception, between a ‘need’ and a ‘want.’ Both are simply desires. If we ask the question, ‘what do people need?’ we may come up with the classic food, water, and shelter trio. These elements, however, are not needs. We are simply assuming that the people in question want to survive. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs would be better termed a hierarchy of desires. The basic needs are no different than those that follow other than that they typically come first. All needs are desires. An iPod is no less desirable than a cup of water in spite of the fact that one may wish to enjoy quenched-thirst before a convenient tune.

The second issue I take with this argument is the notion that if people needed (or desired) something, they would seek it. Remember my definition of marketing. This argument implies that only certain people, namely consumers, should be allowed to market. In a market exchange, each party is giving something up—the consumer is trading cash and the producer an iPod. The consumer’s desire of the iPod is equivalent to the producer’s desire of the cash or else the market exchange would never take place. Saying that Apple should not be allowed to market iPods but a consumer should be allowed to market cash, therefore, is inconsistent. It is like saying that a sheep-farmer is not allowed to trade his sheep for a cows unless the cow-farmer initiates the deal, in spite of the fact that the sheep farmer really desires a cow and the cow-farmer would really desire a sheep if its existence were known. This, I concede, is a rudimentary example but the principle will certainly apply to more complex situations.

Why should producers not be allowed to initiate the marketing process? Indeed, the majority of producer-initiated marketing most likely comes as an answer to perceived questions of the consumer. No right-minded producer prefers to market something that is more difficult to convince consumers to buy. However, if an entrepreneurially-minded producer wishes to market a product that has a near-zero chance of being desired by consumers, he or she has just as much right as the consumer who approaches Apple marketing a mere one dollar bill in exchange for an iPod.