What is the purpose of marketing?

The purpose of marketing is to persuade us to see value in products and services that we would not otherwise consider important or necessary to our lives. Essentially this means that we are trained to desire things not according to wants rather than actual needs.  This idea arose early in the twentieth century:

“We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. […] Man’s desires must overshadow his needs”

Paul Mazur, Harvard Business Review. 1927

Paul Mazur was a leading Wall street banker working for Lehman brother. He also claimed that:

“The community that can be trained to desire . . . to want new things even before the old have been entirely consumed yields a market to be measured more by desires than by needs. And man’s desires can be developed so that they will greatly overshadow his needs.”

Mazur, Paul (1928). American Prosperity: Its Causes and Consequences. New York, NY: Viking Press. Page 24

Over time,  ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ have blurred into one. Perhaps you won’t hear marketers admit that their job is to persuade people to purchase goods they don’t need. But that is still their primary purpose in the bigger picture of modern capitalism, or the “staggering machine of desire” as Mazur called it.

This machine wants to manipulate you to be a consumer above all else.  The system depends on constant desire for goods.  Over time, the The American marketing industry trained consumers to:

“…turn a blind eye to social inequities, to construct individual subjectivites around the purchase of commodities, and to view democracy as the freedom to choose between brands.”

Schweitzer, Marlis (2009). When Broadway Was the Runway: Theater, Fashion, and American Culture. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Page 57

Or in the words of Rage Against the Machine:

The environment exceeding on the level
Of our unconciousness
For example
What does the billboard say?
Come and play!, come and play!
Forget about the movement

Rage Against the Machine, “Freedom”,  1992


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