Holidays 2008: Need is the New Want

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

If only one idea emerges from the profundity of "bests" lists and prognostications this holiday season, here’s my entry:

Need is the new want.

It’s a loaded statement. Here’s what I think it entails:


  • Relevance as meaning, not just circumstance. So much has been said and written about the disruption model of advertising yielding to engagement. It has prompted lots of social media campaigns, games, and creative content that is often quite entertaining, sometimes really good, and otherwise rarely, if ever, relevant to anything beyond a chuckle or pleasant waste of time. This is distraction model and no wonder it hasn’t produced much in the way of measurable business results (like sales). Car wrecks are engaging. Needrequires meaning, not just entertainment.

Need is the new want.


  • Utility as action, not intent. The traditional approach to prompting and nurturing wants was to appeal to internal states of emotion and intent: you will desire this thing I want to sell to you, the ad campaigns of branding’s heyday declared, more by purpose than declarative admission. Associative benefits — emotional or otherwise non-functional — were useful insomuch they addressed emotional or non-functional aspirations. You didn’t do something with brands as much as think about them. But nobody gets paid for spreading karma into the Universe. It’s funny that it took us so long to figure this out.

Need is the new want.

  • Sustainability as quid pro quo, not tolerance or cross-sell. The image business used to rely on a Faustian bargain: consumers paid for content by sacrificing their attention and/or time, while marketers chose like-appearing sale offers as proof of added benefits. It turns out that the real, sustainable commercial relationships — those supposedly based on customers engaged with brands — are, in fact, just like relationships in the real world: ongoing, two-way, and based on trades of substantive meaning. Buying is but a point along this continuum; transactions are continuous, and are the substance of relationships (not the exceptions). 

Need is the new want.

The ideas of relevance, utility, and sustainability are going to be core to successful brands this year and beyond. Applying them will take a new approach, not just to the tactics of marketing delivery, but to the very conception of what brands should be. 

And, at the core of its core, is the idea of need. Marketers spent most of the Twentieth Century focused on creating wants…desires that could be actualized by purchase. We’re now well into a new century, one that is driven by:

  • Ubiquity of information
  • Immediacy of access, and 
  • Constancy of involvement

Need is the key to addressing these attributes, and our challenge, and opportunity, is to configure not just our communications, but our organizational structures to deliver it. 

Need is the new want.

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