It’s A Crisis.  Oh, Look, An iPhone!

A saw a few minutes of news last night while dining at the mall to celebrate my niece’s half birthday.  (God forbid a television not be on at all times in all places.) A smart looking guy in a suit used the words “economic crisis” more times a minute than a thirteen year-old says “like.”

You’ve been hearing about it too, I’m sure.  How couldn’t you?  After all, you’re a consumer and according to the smart guy in the suit your confidence is at an all-time low.  To prove it he said Home Depot’s revenues dropped by a third this quarter.  And then there’s the auto industry crisis, mortgage crisis, airline crisis and on and on.  Everyday the economic crisis, we’re told, gives Americans one more wallop to the wallet.  We, we’re told, are having some major financial problems.

But iPhones are selling like, um, iPhones. And so are Apple computers – now accounting for 25% of all money spent on computers in the U.S.  And they aren’t cheap.  I know.  I’m using one right now.

And most of us – wouldn’t you say? – are still buying soft drinks, snack food, texting plans, cable, vitamin water, and lots of other stuff that’s hardly essential too.  We’re not exactly living like people in the midst of an “economic crisis.”

And this got me thinking way too deeply to reconcile this contradiction.  And I thought about this theory of change I heard once. The theory goes that people are most likely to change their behavior if the consequences of doing so (or not doing so) are believed to be eminent. I won’t stop smoking unless I’m convinced I’ll die very soon if I don’t.  I’ll stay late for work if I’m certain I’ll get the promotion I’m up for if I do.  Maybe, I thought, if we really believed we weren’t going to pay the bills this month, and that would mean losing our house, we’d back away from the Oreos and iPhones.  So, we’re just not convinced the consequences of our spending are eminent, I thought.

And that was way too deep.  Seth Godin, the marketer, has me thinking the more probable reason for our continued spending during this “economic crisis” is much simpler, but no less profound.  He writes:

Marketers taught well-fed consumers to want to eat more than we needed, and consumers responded by spending more and getting fat in the process.

Marketers taught us to amplify our wants, since needs aren’t a particularly profitable niche for them. Isn’t it interesting that we don’t even have a word for these marketing-induced non-needs? No word for sold-hungry or sold-lonely…

…Think you could live without the $1800 a year you spend on cell phone service and $1200 a year you spend on cable TV? Of course you can. You did ten years ago. But now, that high-speed, always-on connection to the rest of the world is so associated with your basic need of connection that you can’t easily divorce the two.

Ouch.  I like my theory better.  But that doesn’t make Seth wrong.  Read his whole post.  It’s well worth a minute of your life. And it might help you stay away from the Oreos and get those bills paid this month.