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teaching someone to need - pavlov, marketing & recession

Pavl When addressing a group of parents, a communal leader on Long Island recently stated, "As a community, we appear to be blessed.  We rarely have poor kids.  Our kids are wealthier than ever, but far too many parents are poor."

His point was obvious: parents will overspend and overexert themselves for their children.  Parents will render themselves "poor" so that their children's "needs" are met.  Parents stress over giving their children the best while sacrificing their own sanity in the process. 

But how much do our children really need and how much do they want?  And how much of this want is fueled by social and marketing driven trends?  Think about all the effort parents have gone through over the past couple years, struggling to find that last Wii, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Elmo TMX, and before that, Beanie Babies and Furbies... all because of a marketing driven need.

We as parents, have been raised on marketing messages.  From Cabbage Patch Kids through Heman, I have been sold to, and told how to reach fulfillment via buying into trends since I was a toddler.  And as a parent, which of us doesn't associate bringing the family to Disney World with family moments that last a lifetime?  Have we reached the point where marketers can define our needs for us?

To that point, what do we really need?  Are we conditioned (ala Pavlovian responses) to look to marketers for messages and meaning?

There are few things in life that we need.  We need food.  We need shelter.  We need social belonging.  We don't need iPhones.  But for many of us, we feel that we do need them.  Marketing and messaging position brands as empowering our lives, at times by addressing needs we never had before.  But now that we have accepted these products into our lives, we feel that we need them.  We expect them.  These products and product messages have become part of our lives, part of our day-to-day human experiences.

There is no stopping this trend.  This is a movement that cannot be undone.  Market regulators may seek to control the message and the medium, but they ignore the larger issues driving our consumption: the unstoppable machine that is modern human existence (at least in the US). 
  • We drive virtually everywhere because we view driving as a part of our lives. 
  • We eat fast food or eat out because we are pressed for time and have often come to view eating as a grab-and-go or social experience beyond the home.
  • And we wear jeans because everyone else does it.  Not because we need them.
A recession may force us to reconsider our spending habits and occasionally make sacrifices.

But it's not going to change the way we as consumer and marketers interact with one another.

We may look for a sale, but we're still going to buy jeans.  And when it comes to our kids, we won't sacrifice an ounce of their happiness unless absolutely necessary.

Recession marketing cannot redefine our needs. But it can change the way we perceive consumption and needs.  Brands may market themselves around "sensible living", but they will only be successful so long as they continue to redefine our needs for us, further empowering our perceived and often warped view of what it means to live and be happy.

Commercialism/consumerism is part of our lives.  I for one, fail to recognize how anything short of a massive depression will shift this deeply ingrained human (and at times social) behavior.

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