Aqumena Review

Marketing Enlightenment

Read Steven Pinker’s new book “Enlightenment Now”.

There are many of us who see tribalism, authoritarianism, demonisation and  magical thinking gathering force across the world. And feel kind of gloomy about it.

Fear not. Pinker’s wonderful book lays out a case that seeks to dispel the gloom.

Beginning in the 17th century a movement began in Europe and gathered force across the world to make reason, science, humanism and progress the core of the civilisational project.

In the modern age Pinker posits that a deeper understanding of the concepts of entropy, evolution and information have further strengthened the foundation of reason, science, humanism and progress. As a result Pinker shows, through credible numbers, that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. The thesis is that the current gloom is just a blip in the graph and the underlying forces of good are active and in control of the overall trajectory. That is, to paraphrase Theodore Parker “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice through reason, science, humanism and progress”.

Marketing will always be an essential creature of its times. The advent of digital media and the evolution of early AI in adtech hide the depredations that the the last couple of decades have seen in the overarching thrust of the marketing project.

The Kotler school of marketing defined it as the art and science of discovering the needs and wants of individuals and societies and meeting them through viable, resource-efficient and reproducible processes. While this might have been true of the early go-go decades after World War II, marketing has since metastasised to something else altogether different in the past decade. In the seventies and eighties the ad men discovered the art of the hidden persuaders and this dark new art borne in advertising agencies quickly infected product design and  management and coalesced into the much ballyhooed concept of the brand.

Over the past decade brands instead of being  vehicles  of efficiently meeting pre-existing needs and wants have become, at core, vehicles of want creations. And in most cases the nature of these created wants are born of the imaginations of marketers and advertisers having only a distant relationship with reality. Which is not to say that there are no enlightened brands and enlightened marketers. However, it is my hunch, that the  sum total  contribution of all of marketing and advertising as practiced today will be on the negative side of the human happiness ledger.

Is marketing and advertising by nature dark arts that will always inveigle desires and confound reason? Not to my belief.

I believe, in essence, marketing is an art and science that can advance reason and  accelerate human progress. However for the arc of marketing to start bending to its real potential, we the practitioners of marketing and advertising should bring back to our profession, in great measure the practice of  reason, science and humanism and a belief that at the core of every profession is a real concern for engendering the increase well-being of all those who are touched by it.