Whether consumers’ needs are artificially created or not has been a topic of discussion for a long time. Philosophical, political and economic arguments are readily available for both sides in the debate, and no unequivocal conclusion has been found until now. In this essay, I will discuss the following statement from the point of view of a marketing manager:
‘Needs’ of consumers are artificially created
Firstly, what are needs? Needs can be classified in two categories, namely internal needs and external needs. Internal needs are the needs as described by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, namely physiological needs, the need for safety, social needs, the need for esteem and the need for self-actualisation. Those needs are by definition not created, but carved in our minds by the evolutionary process. External needs are goods that we need, because our contemporary society or culture demands them. Therefore, in contrast with internal needs, external needs are flexible. Furthermore, I define ‘artificially created’ as the process of creating a need, while no internal incentive for that need is or has been present, or as the process of strongly influencing an existing need so that a new need is established instead of the original need.
The theory of rational consumer choice (Frank, 2010) assumes that all consumers entering the market have stable and clear preferences. Also, they are price takers. Based on this, consumers maximize their utility in two steps. First, they collect information about the goods that they are able to buy given the prices of the goods and the consumer’s income. Second, they choose from the goods that they are able to buy the combination of goods that give them the highest possible utility. From this, it follows that the preferences of the consumers cannot be influenced or created since they are already defined and stable before the consumers enter the market.
Examples of failed attempts to create or influence preferences are easy to find. In 1969, the U.S. company Avon tried to enter...