From just after the turn of the 20th century until just after the middle of that century, the motivational driver for American marketing messages was based on the public’s desire to feel modern. The patent selling messages were about convenience and saving time and being new but the psychological message was: THIS PRODUCT WILL MAKE YOU FEEL MODERN. Merchandise from furniture to frozen fish sticks was presented thoroughly imbued with this fundamental magical promise. All marketing, in all cultures and all ages, is based on the public’s enduring belief in magic. Only the promises change.
Such a change in the marketing psychological message began slowly in 1960. The Age Of Aquarius was not about any kind of counterculture. That was just a media event. The Hippie-Dippie-Yippie-Ki-Yay movement was not even about the Great American Pointless Slaughter in Southeast Asia. The Greening Of America was about the change in the market that Madison Avenue had to address in order to keep the green flowing in the economy. The New Age was about the super-saturation of the market with college-educated people. Unlike their parents, kids of the sixties had grown up feeling modern. What they desperately wanted was to feel intelligent.
By the time I was discharged, a few years before the war ended, Madison Avenue was presenting a new psychological message, the one they spout to this very day: THIS PRODUCT WILL MAKE YOU FEEL SMART. They adopted this message prior to Women’s Liberation, although that movement played into their hands perfectly. The patent messages are about having choices and having either a clinical basis or an ethical basis for making them. Numbers and technical sounding names make people feel smart so the patent messages are loaded with them. Vague allusions to fairness make people feel superior, which is the reward for being smart. Patent messages are rife with such nonsense as “fair trade”, “natural”, and “green”.
My guess for the immediate future of American marketing is that the psychological driver will shift again to become this: THIS PRODUCT WILL MAKE YOU FEEL HUMAN. People will need this in about 50 years when they are walking around on the surface of the moon—with hearts and lungs grown from pig cells, and eyes, ears and limbs that are “facilitated” by computers and bio-membranes—as they visit their friends who have fled Earth for the completely artificial world of the lunar colonies. Moon-enthused people will no longer have the need to feel smart.
My prediction for the distant future of American marketing is that the psychological driver propelling folks in the market will result in this psychological message: THIS PRODUCT WILL MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE AN EARTHLING.
Looking farther out in time, the marketing psychological message could become: THIS PRODUCT WILL MAKE YOU FEEL LIKE YOU BELONG IN THE MILKY WAY.
Peering forward a tiny bit more, we might discover that the marketing psychological message has become extinct. In its place, perhaps, will be a sleek, glassine chip encoding orthodox logic: THIS CODE WILL RESTORE YOUR CIRCUIT DIAGNOSTICS AND PROCESSING TO ACCEPTABLE LEVELS.
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