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Stupid is as Stupid Does

Read this post by Grant McCracken about the meaning of marketing, including the passage below, and then consider how we might consider copyrights and patents, as well as trademarks, in similar terms. McCracken is criticizing a piece on marketing in yesterday’s WSJ which asserted, “the marketer’s fundamental task is not so much to understand the customer as it is to understand what jobs customers need to do — and build products that serve those specific purposes.”

The “purpose brand” proposition is egregious nonsense. Brands, at their best, and among other things, [are] bundles of meanings, some of them robust, some of them delicate, all of them poised to speak to one or more segments and to deliver unto them an understanding of not just what the product does but what it stands for, how it may be used, for whom it may stand, and where it is located in the larger scheme of things, commercial and cultural. (These values are not functions. They are values that create value.)

To reduce the brand to “purpose” is to dumb down the enterprise, diminish the art and science of marketing, begger the consumer, and so displace the marketer, that our three wise men must be seen to conduct themselves as proverbial bulls in the china shop of marketing concept, method and action, destroying the advances made over the 100 years.

Shakespeare was clear on this. When Lear is stripped of the markers of his standing, and told that he doesn’t really need them, he replies

reason not the need, elsewise men’s lives are cheap as beasts

But not just Shakespeare takes umbrage. The social sciences once embraced and then quite emphatically repudiated the “purpose” approach to things. They called it “functionalism” and came to regard it as a violent act of reduction. Functionalism reduced complicated human artifacts to purposes they served. Thus did theory make us stupid. Functionalism obliged us to ignore much of what we knew to be true about the object of study.

[The full, correct version of the Shakespeare quote is:
O reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life is as cheap as beast’s.
]