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Marketing and Modernity

We have just seen that marketing has ancient roots. In this discussion we will examine the way modernity impacts upon marketing. My source for this discussion is Marianne Elisabeth Lien’s Marketing and Modernity, which is based on fieldwork she conducted with a Norwegian food company. At the end of her book she deals, in a philosophically grounded discussion, explicitly with modernism and its impact upon marketing.

As she writes in her discussion of “Western Modernity and the Disengaged Portrayal of ‘True Selves’” (1997: 254):

To the extent that a product manager succeeds in his effort to portray a brand product as having a distinct and readily apparent “personality,” this personality ought, according to the modern way of conceptualizing a “self,” to reflect some “deep core” of the product.... Product managers may literally pick and choose among a wide range of cultural idioms in order to construct a distinct “product personality,” and in this process both utilize and contribute to the arbitrariness characterizing the relationship between a signifier and its sign in modern advertising.... On the other hand, in their efforts to establish brand products, they try to construct products with an image that is coherent and stable over time, a “personality” that supposedly reflects some kid of authentic character of the product.

In keeping with her discussion of the relationship between inside and outside in modernity, she posits that the true personality of products must reside inside them. So there is a kind of conflict between the arbitrary nature of signifiers and signifieds, with which they advertise products, and the inner and true—and lasting—personality of the product.

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