The Upside of Useless Stuff

Dan Ariely on marketing and advertising:

Consider for a moment a world without marketing hype. One in which there’s nothing you really desire beyond what you need to live. There’s nothing your kids want; they don’t bug you every time you’re in the supermarket. How hard would you work in such a world? What would motivate you to work harder?

Now consider our current consumer environment: Multiply the desire for Respirer by thousands of products of varying levels of utility: iPads, leather couches, crystal martini glasses, cars, garden gnomes. It’s like having thousands of little motivational speakers hovering around us.

Let’s be clear. I don’t mean to say that marketing will save our economy. Or that marketing things we don’t need is the key to a prosperous planet. The line is narrow, indeed, between being motivated to work and mortgaging the future (both your own and society’s) to get stuff like bottled air.

Still, as we continue to redefine capitalism, let’s not discount the role of aspiration and the desire for incremental luxuries–things we want but don’t necessarily need. They can fuel productivity and thus have a valuable function in our economy.

Although not a response to it, this is an interesting counterpoint to Walking Ads.