When you take economics at high school the very first thing you learn about is supply and demand – the ‘customers’ have a demand for a given good or service then the that sends a signal to the marketplace to which the response is the creation of businesses that meet that demand. The point of marketing? to tell the consumer, “hey, you know that thing that you’ve always wanted? well, we make that very thing!” and if there is a competitor making the same product then that marketing will also talk about why your particular product is better than the competition. Like many things you learn in economics, when first starting out, the explanation is simple and straightforward – there is demand and in respond someone addresses that demand through building a business to produce a good service or service. Once everyone has obtained that given product or received that particular service then how do you have a repeat customer? you create an upgraded version but what happens if customers are happy with what they have even after explaining all the benefits of the new version? well, there is planned obsolescence where you’ll say that you will only provide software updates for a set number of years but then there is a more ingenious way of getting to people.
With the rise of YouTube a whole new genre of videos emerged in the form of ‘unboxing’ and ‘product reviews’ which are another avenue of marketing that a business can take advantage of. A business will recognise that a certain reviewer has a large enough audience and will send a review unit so then, rather than having a someone from the business speaking about the product you have someone whom the audience already has a parasocial relationship with – a sense of implied trust that the person speaking is speaking from a place of genuineness rather than it being the result of that person simply carrying out their job as a spokesperson for the business aka “I have no skin in the game so I’ll give the upfront truth”. Then there are the influencers, be they online such as Instagram or offline, that imply that if one wishes to be ‘up with the play’ and on the ‘cutting edge’ then one should get this new product or service that they are using.
Then there is the role of social pressure which is amplified not only through real world interactions but also through social media. Where such products and services are seen as embodiments of social capital – friends and family only ever uploading videos and photos of the good things in their life thus giving the perception that everything is going well with examples of that success being that they have bought in terms of ‘symbols of success’ (along with the cultural cachet that comes with it) such as the latest phone, laptop, desktop or some intangible such as a holiday. The company taps into the angst over whether you’re missing out/falling behind your social circle and because we’re social creatures we want to conformt to be seen as part of the group – we’ll of course try to justify the purchase to ourselves but ultimately it is the peer pressure to ‘keep up with the Jones’ and be part of the ‘in crowd’ which will shape our behaviour.
Then there is the atomisation of society of individualism off the rise of capitalism then it taken to the extreme with the rise of neoliberalism and its emphasis on the individual but as noted before we’re social creatures so in lieu of a sense of a community based identity a new form of neo-tribalism has developed around companies, products, sports teams etc. where we associate our own self image to the image that those particular vestiges of identity which are associated with particular brands, sports teams, products etc. If one were to slip into Marxist mode, one could see this as an example of people trying to deal with alienation by substituting real relationships based on shared interests, values, religious beliefs etc. with the fetishisation of commodities then creating common interest around that shared commodity usage through virtual communities online.
The below video makes a light hearted look at the situation – reminds me of when I see an smart watch, I think of all the things that I could find useful but then I quickly realise that I’m trying to justify an impulse buy rather than a situation where the product itself is addressing unaddressed needs that existed before the arrival of the product to the market claim to address a need that in reality never actually existed in the first place.