Down the Drain!? The Old Marketing Paradigm

The marketing paradigm – the one we all know – has been long gone, but it is not easy for us to accept it. It’s hard to start on a new path, even if it has already been walked on.

Marketing emerged in “its heyday” in the 1980s when consumption exploded, starting with the United States. At that time, the markets were virtually empty. Of course, there was furniture, there were packaged food, tools, cars, etc., but there were only a few models, it was easy to make a choice, it was based on the simple and functional features and on the price, and less or not at all on the status of owning and using an object. In the 80’s people started to want more and more, and companies were more than happy to produce as much as possible, more diversified things, things that were more in tone with the times, with the trends, etc. There was an abundance of products and services, but all this fervor of production and diversification was based on people’s simple desire to live better. This “better” came in the 1980s, after the period of post-war recovery, and it seems that it wasn’t until then that society as a whole had become ready to produce and consume. Companies happily embarked on the new situation by stimulating and exploiting demand, diversifying production, creating new products, reducing production cycles, including reducing product life cycles in order to produce more and to ensure constant consumption.

Of course, the competition grew year after year, everyone wanted to embark on the new trend, and innovation and invention were priding themselves in creating differentiation. At a societal level, that famous Maslow pyramid still functioned, and the marketing of that time transformed it into a fetish, relying on it for most of its reasoning and procedures. At the same time, brands appeared – also the notion of brands – which was in fact the crowning of the Maslowian pyramid, the peak towards which all products strived.

At first, the foundations of marketing were relying on the creation of differentiation in regards to the tangible characteristics of the products. The competition was fierce in inventing new products, new functions, materials or finishes. Consumers – they had already been given this name – wanted features, they wanted ergonomic products, they wanted to populate their personal universes with many useful and beautiful objects. The paradigm that marketing was built on then, as we have known it since the 1980s, was simple: people want to consume because they NEED products and services, but they will do so according to their own needs, psychosocial characteristics and income. Only then it began to be studied and divided into subcategories such as tastes, social class, education, family background, marital status and so on. Suppliers of products and services basically met some needs in society as a result of relaxation and economic development. In fact, what mattered most was the desire to HAVE and LIVE according to the new standards that became possible. It was a mindset – a state of mind at the societal level. Due to these conditions, it was extremely simple to categorise consumers and find the causal links between product characteristics and price and consumers.

Today, however, NEED, which was defined then by NECESSITY and the desire for abundance, has disappeared in the avalanche of products and services we have become accustomed to altogether as a society. Consumerism had disappeared, a kind of experimentalism came after it, but it also disappeared later, yuppies and other categories and categorisations have emerged among us and, slowly, two main currents have arisen among consumers: the real need (commodities) and the imaginary need, the one that offers status and a feeling of belonging to a group. Inevitably, the two needs came to be intertwined due, in part, to globalisation, the democratisation of production, social classes and declining production prices. And perhaps, first of all, due to the gradual democratisation of information. So, the patterns, categorisations, links, practices and rules postulated by “classic” marketing have become unusable or only partially valid due to major changes in society, in our collective mentality, due to our changing values, social models and production methods.

Today a person with a significant income drinks economy beer because they do not want to spend more than a certain amount on this product. Or, a person with a more modest income, but enough to live on, who is living in a rented apartment, pays a leasing rate for a very expensive car, bought for status reasons. Or, young people with very well paid jobs in IT – we’re talking about substantial sums – choose to ride a bike in order to save their money for travelling and vacations. The list goes on. In the 80’s – the period when marketing really took off and it developed in the way we know it today – these examples were simply inconceivable; society was just formatted differently. The purpose of these examples is to show how much our desires and the way in which we relate to ourselves and to society have changed, so that the old and classic categories (sex, age, income, social status, education, etc.) and the simple causal links between these criteria and consumption habits are no longer valid. Thus, the old paradigm of marketing should also change with the world we live in.

How should it change!? I still don’t think anyone knows, but the signs are foreshadowing. The most important aspect is the permanent, perhaps even excessively sometimes, access of information, something each and every one of us takes advantage of. We read about services and products, features, we make comparisons, access specialised forums with reviews from other consumers and much more. Everything becomes transparent, demystified, and is thus stripped of its small or big secrets, products and brands find it harder and harder to find their way to that “gut feeling” that has defined them so far. In the end, this transparency can lead – again – to companies wanting to create unique products or with obviously differentiating tangible characteristics, much like in the ‘80s. In addition, there is an increasing emphasis on social responsibility, the environment and health. The world has somewhat gone back to the ‘80s in terms of conscious consumption, but the major difference is already the access to (almost) any type of information. Therefore, if marketing is to be reinvented – and it will be forced to do so because of these circumstances – it will focus on tangible features, transparency and a real, verifiable and sustainable reputation.