Posted by: nickgerlich | July 1, 2008

I Want It! I Need It!

I will never forget the time my wife came to me, in all seriousness, and proclaimed, “We’re not buying any more CDs.”

“Huh?” I replied.

“You have enough. We’re not buying anymore.”

Isn’t it amazing how “we” and “you” were used interchangeably there? Never mind the fact that this was long before iTunes and downloading of any kind (legal or otherwise). Nope, an executive decision had been made, and I was the executee.

Of course, I broke the law (hers, not the RIAA’s). I bought more CDs. And although I now buy my music through iTunes, I have not quit amassing an enormous music collection. All the good songs have not yet been written, and it is my job (OK, desire) to enjoy the good ones that come along in the mean time.

Wants vs. NeedsWhether I need new music is quite another thing. I will not deny, though, that I want it. Once I get an ear worm, the only way to satisfy that critter is to buy more music.

Such is life, a never-ending battle of the ear worm and the pocketbook, the devil on one side and an angel on the other. Sales receipts litter the battlefield of Needs and Wants.

The job of the marketer is to help us discover our needs, not create them. And then they have been tasked (oh, doesn’t this just sound so noble?) with helping us translate those newfound needs into wants, activated by desire to fix some consumer problem that has popped onto the radar screen.

Oh yeah…and if they cannot help us discover those latent needs, then they’ll cut to the chase and try to build desire anyway.

From a marketer’s perspective, we are the neediest people to ever roam the planet. And our needs are often based on such high levels of economic activity that our ancestors could never have seen this coming. Who among us would have thought, back in 1997 when WTOnline first went, well, online, that we profs would need desktop and laptop computers, smart phones, and all the cool artifacts of a mobile office?

Excuse me while I wipe the bagel crumbs from my keyboard. Panera is crowded this morning, and I had to hustle just to get a small table.

Abraham Maslow would roll over in his pyramid-shaped grave were he to see how we have leaped beyond his first two levels of needs, and trained our sites on the remaining three. He might argue that our use of products to somehow try to satisfy the highly abstract notions of esteem, interpersonal, and self -attainment needs is superfluous at best, and downright scandalous at worst.

Sure, there are some things that we all need by virtue of living or by decree (car insurance comes to mind). But we live charmed lives these days, and I doubt any of us are at risk of running around naked or hungry. No, we are clothed quite nicely, and dining at the table of economic surplus. The soundtrack of our lives is richly appointed with a full backing band.

And I just can’t get that tune out of my mind. My wife is back at her mother’s. You wouldn’t tell if I downloaded it, would you?

Dr “Bleed For It” Gerlich



  1. One of the really great things about having students — or, in my case, children and grandchildren — is that they keep introducing me to new music. Long ago, my business was music, so i think they want to show me that their music is as good as mine. Sometimes they’re right.

    Wants and needs are curious things. In my ad agency days — everybody needs to do something after the music biz — I learned to convert wants into needs by offering the easiest possible solutions.

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