Is it part of the marketer’s job description to create needs? Can needs be created by marketers? The latter of these two questions is often and uncritically answered with a yes by most non-marketing educated consumers. Believing that marketers can create needs is however a serious misconception of what a need is and moreover, what marketing is all about.

A need is a state of felt deprivation. This means that the organism experiencing the need has a deficit of some kind. For instance, as human beings we are every now and then experiencing hunger. Hunger is a need and can by no means be created by marketers no matter how skilled they are. The fact that we become hungry and that we exhibit this particular need every now and then is a consequence of being a living organism and not the creation of marketers. However, we, being humans, use what we call food to satisfy our hunger and here marketers can affect and influence what kind of food we want in order to satisfy our needs. As a matter of fact, marketers can create new wants and influence what we want by innovating and marketing new kinds of food stuff. The average person is most likely confusing the creation of wants with creating needs. Needs cannot be created and we only have a few of them, for example needs such as hunger, thirst, social needs such as belonging, esteem needs and self actualization. These needs do not have to be created, they are already there and are part of the human make up.

If I am hungry I may want to satisfy my need with a sausage, a meatball, a bowl of rice or any other food stuff available and there are millions of them. Obviously I can express an infinite number of different wants that can satisfy the same basic need – hunger.

So when Charlie Nagreen or Fletcher Davis invented the hamburger (both have been accredited as inventors) and sold it to customers they didn’t create a new need, they merely created a new kind of product that could satisfy the very same basic need that humans have had since the dawn of mankind. However, the hamburger was something new that customers could want in order to satisfy their hunger. It is important to be able to distinguish between needs and wants since marketers can create wants but not needs.

Other popular examples of “created needs” that people are frequently pointing at are mobile phones or micro wave ovens. A mobile phone is just a tool for communication, in the same way as stationary phones, fax machines or smoke signals are means of communication. Since the human being is a social creature communication is an inherent part of maintaining social relations. Inventing the mobile phone and selling it to consumers does not create a new need. The need to communicate is already there, it is just giving the customer a new possibility to communicate with others in case he or she wants to communicate in this new way.

The same thing can be said about the micro wave oven, it is a tool to heat up food. Food can be heated in many ways such as over open fire, on the stove or in the micro wave. The micro wave is a new and convenient way to heat up food and does not in any way constitute a new need. However, the customer may want to prepare his/her food using a micro wave.

© Copyright 2007: Stics. This article may not be re-produced (in full or part) in any format/media off-line or Internet based, without prior permission from Stockholm Institute of Communication Science.