A Marketer’s Dilemma

3 07 2011

It was just another two-hour flight home from Vegas. Aside from the kids playing across the aisle, not much was going on. The adults were tired, no doubt from playing hard in Sin City. We were nearly to Amarillo when my colleague, Dr Browning, poked me and asked completely out of the blue, “So what are some problems you see?”

“Huh? Problems? You mean like how I was asleep but now I am awake?”

“No…problems. Things that bug you. Big problems.”

“Wow,” I mumbled as I tried to stave off a few more snores. “That’s a tough one.”

After a long pause and having drawn deep into my well of Things That Bug Me, I gushed about the problems in Darfur, piracy in Somalia, urban design, car culture, water consumption, and a general disrespect for our natural resources. But by then I was becoming more fully awake, and I served a glass full of my biggest concern.

“You know, what really bothers me is that, as a free market, small government Marketing kind of guy, that 70% of our economy is derived from retail,” I started to lecture. “While I am happy with the other 30% representing a fairly small government, it concerns me that, in order for our economy to keep rolling along, the whole thing is predicated on our continuing to buy stuff.”

“Which is precisely what Marketing is all about. Buying more stuff.”

And at the risk of this beginning to sound like a cheap ripoff from a Carlin sketch, it is our ever-growing piles of stuff that keep us employed. Stop buying stuff? People get laid off. Stores close. Manufacturers go belly-up.

Of course, Dr Browning should know better than to ask deep questions. I can pontificate with the best of them. She has had to suffer through numerous rants, raves, and philosophical discourses. It’s like a gas can asking a fellow for a match. Don’t get me started.

But I digress.

Sometimes I feel like the devil in disguise. “I teach people how to take other people’s money” is how I answer the “What do you do?” question. And that pretty much summarizes it. Marketing in a nutshell.

And sometimes it bothers me. “Well, you asked,” I replied to Dr Browning.

I often wonder what it must be like growing up Amish, people for whom frugality and happiness go hand-in-hand. Is it possible that we make fun of the people who happen to possess the very thing we are trying to buy?

Now don’t get me wrong. I really do not want to adopt such an austere way of life. But maybe there really is beauty in simplicity. Heck, the Amish always seem to have an unemployment rate hovering right around zero. They take care of one another in their little communities (which always have a small, white schoolhouse every two miles, the perfect commutable distance…on foot). They make or grow nearly everything they consume.

It’s a very strange economy. In their own little world, there is no government component. But there is also very little retail component. It’s as if each family is its own economy.

Of course, we cannot realistically all move to that place. And I have never heard of someone converting to the Amish faith, attesting to the fact that the Amish way of life has more negatives than it does positives.

But maybe, just maybe, we can all learn a little from them. Maybe we can all learn to reduce, reuse, recycle (whoa…you mean the Amish are green?!?). Maybe we can temper our insatiable materialistic appetites, and maybe Marketers can issue a little restraint in the planned obsolescence department. Maybe we can rein in our spending and not drive our economy with debt.

And maybe Dr Browning will learn to quit inviting me to the podium. Never hand the mic to a Marketer. He’ll try to sell you something every time

Dr “The Captain Has Turned On The Seat Belt Sign” Gerlich


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One response

3 07 2011
Agcomm student

Dr Browning inspires us all and your blog is very interesting! I lived in an Amish community up north and they are very carefree people and get offended if you (purposely) over-pay them in tip money for a saddle or leather repair. their prices are dirt-cheap and they won’t accept the extra $ for what we think its worth.

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