The Customer Is Not The Icing

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The customer is not icing

A product is more than its generic essence. What counts is how the customer views it. And that is something over which the pro-ducer and the seller have more control than meets the eye. Only people in the iron grip of cultural lag, or those hopelessly befuddled by the homilies of obsolete moralizers believe that the customer is king. He may have the last word as to whether or what he will buy, but he is not exempt from the influence of the seller.

The assumption that the consumer can be influenced is the basis of all promotion. But it is a point few men in business dare make out loud in public. It has a manipulative and devious ring, presumably abrasive on the public ear, and, besides, not especially comforting to the speaker himself. He was told throughout childhood by his own wise and loving mother that honesty, kindness, fairness, truth, charity, and service to his fellow man are the ultimate human virtues. Obviously, things have changed a great deal since he left home. So if he cannot now lead a life of selfless service to humanity, he can certainly in his business life eschew deliberate deception and manipulation - or at least he can have the decency not to promote or justify their use by others.

The real morality of business

It is helpful if we divest ourselves of the spurious moralizing that is such a pathological part of the commercial rhetoric. To justify advertising and promotion, men in business tax their imaginations to the limit, spinning elaborately transparent webs of apology - always ultimately to the self-righteous effect that web promotion is good for the economy because it creates jobs and raises living standards. No doubt all this frenzied rhetoric is a necessity imposed by the guilt of childhood remembrances - the endless lies about how beautifully the world works and about the selfless purposes of man that were so relentlessly drilled into all of us as children by our well-meaning mothers years ago. Now that as adults we lead lives so inescapably different from what mother said was proper, and since maternal wisdom heard at an early age, no matter how silly or downright false it may have been, has an almost immortal tenacity, we feel morally compelled somehow to justify those lives.

The resulting blather and fraudulence is enough to send an educated man over to the enemy. The fact is that the world is nothing like we were ever told. None of us can live our mothers' rigid fantasies. Nor would any of us really want to. What we want is to face life, not escape from it. And much of what seems in business to the thoughtless mind as trivial and extraneous is in fact the reality we both cherish and require for survival. The fact is that in bright promotion, exaggerated advertisements, elaborated packaging, puffy product design, and generous business lunches we have a more realistic and honest reflection of the nature of man and the reality of life than anything dear old mother was ever capable of contemplating. It is she who told the lies, and the ad man who tells the truth.

Truth is what man does, not what he says.. And everywhere he does the same thing - he modifies, embellishes, rewrites, and re-packages an otherwise crude, vulgar, and oppressive reality. He does it in order that life might for the moment be made more tolerable. In commerce this is called advertising, 'industrial design, and packaging. In other professions it is called poetry, art, fashion, architecture, religion. The poet does not offer an engineering description of a Grecian urn - he offers an exaggerated, lyrical, palpably false description. His objective is quite the same as the ad man who lyricizes extravagantly about the latest model auto-. mobile. Both seek a heightening effect on the minds and emotions of their audiences.


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