Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied

Charles Kettering: General Director of Research Laboratories at General Motors.
[From Nation's Business, 17, no. 1 (January 1929), 30-31, 79.]
A few weeks back I was sitting with a group of executives. All were admiring a new model.

"It is absolutely the best automobile that can be made," enthused one. I objected to that statement.

"Let's take this automobile which, you say, is the 'best that can be made' and put it into a glass showcase," I said. "Let's put it in there-seal it so no person can possibly touch it. Just before we seal it in the case, let us mark the price in big letters inside the case."

"Let us do that and come back here a year from today. After looking at it and appraising it, we will mark a price on the outside of the glass. It will be a price something less than what we think the car is worth today. Probably $200 less. Then, let's come back once every year for ten years, look through the glass, and mark a new price. At the end of ten years we won't be able to put down enough ciphers to indicate what we think of the car. That is, of course, eliminating its value as junk.

"In those ten years, no one could possibly have touched the car. There could be no lessened value through handling. The paint would be just as good as new; the crank case just as good; the real axle just as good; and the motor just as good as ever.

What then, has happened to the car?

"People's minds will have been changed; improvements will come in other cars; new styles will have come. What you have here today, a car that you call 'the best that can be made,' will then be useless. So it isn't the best that can be made. It may be the best you can have made and, if that is what you meant, I have no quarrel with what you said. . . ."

Change, to a research engineer, is improvement. People, though don't seem to think of it in that manner. When a change is suggested they hold back and say, "What we have is all right--it does the work." Doing the work is important but doing it better is more important. The human family in industry is always looking for a park bench where it can sit down and rest. But the only park benches I know of are right in front of an undertaker's establishment.

The younger generation--and by that I mean the generation that is always coming--knows what it wants and it will get what it wants. This is what makes for change. It brings about improvements in old things and developments in new things.

We, as manufacturers, must offer those improvements after they have been found to be capable improvements. The public buys and disposes of what it has. The fact that it is able to dispose of what it has enables us, as producers, to put a lower price tag on the new model. The law of economy in mass production enters here. We are permitted to turn out cars in volume because there is a market for them...

If everyone were satisfied, no one would buy the new thing because no one would want it. The ore wouldn't be mined; timber wouldn't be cut. Almost immediately hard times would be upon us.

You must accept this reasonable dissatisfaction with what you have and buy the new thing, or accept hard times. You can have your choice.
Of course, it wasn't always this way. Coupled with the corporate aim of production and sales without end, psychology and the tools of mass media combined to give rise to the collective id monster threatening to devour us all - dopamine hegemony.