Aristotle in the Market

Imagine you’re one of Aristotle’s disciples. One day, he leads you and several others to the market (that’s him on the right). All the merchants have their wares on display – haute couture togas, leather-bound copies of the latest epic poem, designer torches for setting your sacrificial animals on fire. And the masses are lining up to buy these things. Booth after booth, it’s the Times Square of ancient Greece. And this is what Aristotle says to you:

“Look at all of the things I don’t need.”

I was in Baltimore a couple months ago. I stayed right on the Harbor, and as I stepped outside my hotel I could see a Barnes & Noble, Hard Rock Café, ESPN Zone, P.F. Chang’s, Williams Sonoma, and a California Pizza Kitchen. I saw the exact same sight in San Francisco a while ago, and I can look out of my office window and see pretty much the same thing along Michigan Avenue.

“Look at all of the things I don’t need.”

Yet I’m in advertising. I spend my days trying to convince people to go to the market. To drop their drachmas and buy the latest high-end discus. Is there a conflict here? No one really needs a Porsche. Or an iPhone. Or vitamin-infused water. Right?

I’ll tell you how I’ve made my peace with this. But I’d like to hear your ideas first. Any takers?

9 thoughts on “Aristotle in the Market

  1. I’ll throw this on there too:Lots of things people don’t need, things that harm the environment, or encourage bad working conditions…etc. There are a lot of ways to negatively look at what we do. It’s good to think about these things before you get into it.


  2. I’d say we can learn a good bit from Aristotle. But also Buddha and his the idea of the middle ground. That’s how I’ve come to terms with the idea of selling my soul: stay open to pro bono opportunities for the good guys, the NPCA’s of the world.


  3. No people don’t need a lot of things, but they want them. I don’t look at it as selling things people don’t need, rather I see it as fulfilling wants. We don’t need to explore the bottom of the Ocean, we want too. We don’t need to explore the stars, we want too. Now, not everybody gets to go scuba diving or spacewalking as part of their everyday lives, for them there is Porsche, there are designer torches, there are things that take the place of having something they want more.To delve into a more socia/economic/political vent, its the same arguement capitalists use against Marxists. For pure Marxism to work, everyone would have to grow up wanting to do the thing they are assigned too. That means you’d have to have a whole lot of people who’s life long dream was to clean human excrement, sweep the floors, work in the mines. The problem is, those are dreams for people, they aren’t something to reach for, they are things they settle for and demand adequate compensation in exchange for putting their dreams aside.Or to put it in terms everyone could understand, I’ll quote Office Space. If you had a million dollars, what would you do? The answer was supposed to be the job you should do when you grew up.Michael Bolton: That’s bullshit, because if its true then we wouldn’t have any janitors to clean up shit.What was my point again?Oh yeah, just because we’re not always encouraging people to buy things they need doesn’t mean that we’re doing them a disservice, people will buy what they want, we’re just reminding them that this is what they want.


  4. Some how my life is enhanced by these ‘unneeded’ things. And somewhere in the collection of words above, I think perry got it right: it’s a want. Want and need – it’s a fine line. I need a computer to function in today’s world and to support myself with a job. I want a MacBook.I need a phone to communicate with modern humans. I want an iPhone.I need food. I want California Pizza Kitchen. I don’t need the Rubik’s cube, the iPod in my car, or the foam hat in the shape of a Hokie Bird’s head in my room. But I have them. But I’m not sure it’s at the hand of advertising that I do…Oh, Aristotle.


  5. To Bukes point, I try to keep an eye open for those good happenings… not only good things, but fun things. “The middle ground” is tricky though. It too often gets confused with “everything in moderation.” The problem with “everything in moderation ” is that somethings should not be done at all. Cigarette ads for one. There are many others.


  6. For me, Big Tobacco is an easy line to draw. It’s such a stigmatized industry, and anyway, there’s more award-winning work to be done for anti-tobacco campaigns. (Still, good for you for drawing that line.)But what happens when you’re asked to work on the state lottery? Or a product specifically targeted to children?What happens when you draw your lines in the sand, and then, as a junior creative with no clout, your CD assigns you to work on something that, as a student, you said you’d never touch?Bill Bernbach said “A principle isn’t a principle until it costs you money.”


  7. That was kind of what I was getting at with my question, stackingchairs. It’s not for me to agree or disagree with where you draw your line. I worked at an agency with the biggest cigarette account in the world. I also had a grandfather who suffered quite a bit in his final years thanks in part to his smoking habit. So for me that was an easy line, and I could have justified walking from the job if it came to that choice (it never would have–the agency respected anyone who refused to work on cigarettes). But someone also could have criticized me for working on products that make people fat, or for working on ads for kids. Work on a car account and you’re polluting the environment. I work on products that aren’t biodegradable, that come in plastic packages, etc. Object to working on all of these and you’ll have trouble finding a job. The way I’ve always looked at this stuff is that someone is going to do the job. If I say I’m not going to do it, then someone else will and they may or may not be aware, or care, about the negative effects it can have. If I’m doing it, I can help push things in the right direction, can be in some of the meetings where deciscions are made, and can offer alternatives to the ethically dubious routes.I’m not sure. I still think about it a lot. The metaphor I still like is that I can have a lot more impact if I’m on the bus, rather than standing in front of it or just yelling at it as it goes past.


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