“Marketing Markets”

Wednesday, June 21st

I had an insightful conversation with Bob Gower, the head of marketing at EPRIDA, a start-up in San Francisco. But I’m not, just yet, prepared to divulge in detail. On the tip of it, Gower is addressing the tough questions of segmentation and message. He’s redesigning the website (it’s third iteration), and he’s about to head to EPRIDA’s first trade show. In the guts of it, he and his team are building an organization. We touched on the roles of technicians, scientists and engineers in relationship to marketing and corporate communications. We talked about raising capital from investors versus selling product to consumers. It’s all in the life of a start-up marketer. I’ll come back to Gower soon.

An article by Gary Gardner in the May/June 2006 issue of World Watch magazine may pique your interest. Called “Marketing Markets,” it breaks down the iconographic “market.”

“In February, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney dismissed suggestions that a gasoline tax could help cure America’s addiction to oil. ‘The president and I…are big believers in the market,’ Cheney declared, offering his preferred solution to the problem. Cheney’s input invoked one of the most powerful icons in modern politics: “the market” has achieved mythic status as a larger-than-life, quasi-magical, all-knowing force that can cure most any economic, environmental, or social ill. But this view emerges from an exaggerated or oversimplified understanding of its central features. Misrepresented and oversold, “the market” is pressured by political and business leaders to promise more than it can deliver—in the process obscuring its true value to modern societies.”

Gardner dissects a few of Cheney’s sentences around the magical market; he plays out “the reality behind the rhetoric,” and writes:

“One of the strongest selling points for free markets is that they offer consumers extensive choice. The argument is seductive because human beings nearly everywhere seem to value freedom deeply. But look closer: markets today arguably offer a wide range of choice where it least matters, and little choice where consumption is more consequential.”*

Gardner concludes:

“There is no question that markets offer real benefits, and few clamor today for a return to command-and-control economies. But the wisest use of markets seems to be to allow their allocative magic and efficiency to operate within a set of political goals set by democratic societies. Pulling political gloves over invisible hands could direct those hands to operate within boundaries established by the public—and in the process, reclaim a key economic tool for serving human needs.”

Energy is (quite) consequential and political gloves (do) guide the invisible hands of the energy market. They just don’t guide them toward a level playing field for new entrants. No, we don’t have a free market, or even a true market, when it comes to energy. Nonetheless, Cheney believes “the market” will solve our addition to oil.

* A study on consumers found that for some consumer segments (those without higher education), freedom is freedom from having to choose. For that segment, choice is burdensome, not freeing. On shopping days when I am presented with three shelves of kitty litter (clumping, non-clumping, fresh-scented, non-scented) from which to choose, I feel burdened, too.

Goings on this week:

  • The Colbert Report. Stephen Colbert took a spin on GM’s $1.99/gallon gasoline promotion in his “The Word” segment on June 20th. Reference to a Thomas Friedman column kicked it off. (By the by…GM is a sponsor.)
  • Chevron’s post cards by The New Yorker cartoonists. Pull ‘em out and mail ‘em!
  • Big Coal: The Dirty Secrets Behind America’s Energy Future and author Jeff Goodell in The New York Times, American Prospect, Plenty, Treehugger, Sustainablog, Natural History magazine. (No, no Wall Street Journal coverage.)
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