Twenty-nine years after George W. S. Trow envisioned an era of no context, it is suddenly possible to discern an economic era of no product.
For most of the postwar era, design and marketing have been all about creating aspirational narratives with the aim of getting people to make purchases. Reliable growth depends upon getting more people to make the same purchases or the same people to make purchases at a greater frequency. But after 2008, it is clear that the consumer aspiration to buy nothing–whether out of exhaustion, bankruptcy, or simply to pay other bills–has become a plausible narrative.
Can you aspire to asceticism? I don’t know, but you can cut back on spending.
I can’t help but think that these tough economic times are going to force some of us in advertising to consider our own product’s worth. Detroit is looking at the mess it’s in. So is Wall Street. So is the newspaper industry. We are not immune.
However, Hockenberry’s vision is extreme. We’re not moving toward a “no product” mindset, people are simply looking to make wise purchase decisions. Items of questionable value have no place in this new world, but items like food, drink and even entertainment are staples, even when they’re expensive.
The fact is there are a sea of products available to us. Many we don’t need, never did need and won’t need in the future. The good news is the products and services we do need, in turn are reliant to some degree on marketing, or “a plausible narrative” to put it in Hockenberry’s terms.