Aristotle to the Rescue

Again, some really great, interesting comments on the last post. Here’s my take. I’d love to hear what you think of it.

It’s Aristotle who inspired the question of advertising things we don’t really need. And it’s Aristotle who helps me deal with it.

Aristotle’s philosophy held that people can only be happiest when we are doing all we are capable of doing.

We can’t be truly happy knowing we can and should do something, and then not act. We can’t be truly happy lounging around when we know we’re capable of starting a business, organizing a club, or writing a letter to the editor. We can’t be truly happy passing a homeless person on the street when we’ve got a dollar in our pocket we know we don’t really need. And when you’re capable of doing intelligent, creative, brilliant advertising, that’s what you’ve got to do, too.

While some may argue that no one really needs a Porsche, vitamin-enhanced water, or an iPhone, I would also argue that the producers of those goods are probably happy because they’re doing all they’re capable of. They’re trying to engineer a better car, make more interesting water, or make media more accessible by whatever standards they set. They’re innovating. And that’s what we do as a species. And if I really believe that about a product, I’m happy to help advertise that.

So how does this relate to any of you today? The One Show College Competition is currently under way. I understand the deadline is February 21st. You’re all capable of getting in that book. What a great opportunity for you to be happy.

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?