Oh God, he’s quoting Maslow again.

Written by

Andrew Millar


February 20, 2007

Yes, I used Abraham Maslow in a ‘discussion’ with my staff.

I was ranting about only employing ‘self actualising’ people who are honest with themselves and others. People who see their faults and want to be part of a solution rather than the problem. They are morally responsible and spontaneous. But most of all they accept facts as they are and the realities of the world rather than denying or avoiding them.

I think it would have been more effective to simply say, “”Wash your coffee cup before you go home or I’ll take the coffee machine away.””

So it was natural that there was suspicion when I introduced Maslow into another conversation. Only this time, it was a briefing.

We do a lot of work to identify who we are talking to when we craft any marketing communications. We use a lot of tools and try and cover information from every angle. Not every task can be answered with a formatted brief – which is why we don’t use them.

For this task Maslow seemed to best describe what we were thinking.

For those who came in late, Abraham Maslow was the first psychologist who based his studies on the minds of well people. (“The study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a crippled psychology and crippled philosophy.” Fair enough.) The bit that most know of his work is his ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ – often quoted, often parodied.

He said, as the needs of a human are met at one level, they can proceed to the next level and so on up the chart.

1) Once basic needs are met we progress to…
2) Safety and security needs. When these are met…
3) Belongingness and love needs are important. Which leads to…
4) Esteem needs and then to…
5) Self-actualisation. The top of the hierarchy.

The client we were speaking about fitted right into the 3rd level. But when I look at the levels, most advertising seems to appeal to the first three levels only.

There are few brands that seemed to appeal to the higher levels. Why?

Are we so bloody lousy at dealing with our emotions that the majority of us have not progressed beyond level 3? Or is it that, as we are told, September 11 has reshaped the world and we collectively needed to retreat for more love and belongingness. Faith Popcorn, the American futurist, calls it ‘cocooning’ though she saw the trend long before the second great ‘Day of Infamy’.

She sighted and labeled ‘cocooning’ as the trend that has individuals socializing less and were retreating into their homes more. She claimed people need to stay away from society and lack social confidence, which leads to ‘cocooning’. Popcorn identified it as a commercially significant trend that would lead to, among other things, stay-at-home electronic shopping.

Perhaps the iPod is the palpable badge of the committed ‘cocooner’. Nothing says ‘don’t talk to me’ like an earbud screwed firmly into an ear hole. But people didn’t talk to each other on subways anyway. To me it is just sensible use of dead time.

I prefer to think that as cities get more crowded and information becomes more and more accessible, we need to retreat for ‘quiet time’. We seek to block out a world that is becoming more and more boisterous and over bearing. Popcorn almost sees cocooning as a weakness. I think it is more a necessity to balance a world out of control.

Anthropologist, Alain de Botton, author and ‘philosopher of everyday life’, observes that our homes reflect that which we lack in our lives. Could this be why Minimalism is so de rigueur?

Perhaps we all need that quiet time to work on our self-esteem.

Andrew Millar
Creative Director/Partner