Advertising executive Rory Sutherland gives a brilliant and humorous talk at TED about how marketing creates intangible value and why this is good for society. He points out that while creating tangible value requires raw materials, energy, and labor, creating intangible value just requires a good idea. Marketing often involves changing the perception of a good or service so that it has a greater perceived value. Sutherland points out that changing the perception of something can be just as satisfying as changing reality.
Sutherland makes a good argument for why marketing is not evil as it is often portrayed, but can instead help solve some of society’s important problems including the growing scarcity of natural resources, waste, and public safety. If we spend a larger portion of our total dollars on intangible value, the result may be a reduction in waste and burning of fossil fuels. This is because it takes no more physical resources to make an Apple computer than it does to make an Acer, but the Apple has a higher perceived value. This added perceived value can create greater wealth in the population, even as physical resources become more scarce. In public safety, we can apply the rules of persuasion to nudge people into making healthier decisions. Sutherland says that persuasion is often better than compulsion when describing how speed signs like a flashing happy or frowning face sign is about 10% of the cost of a speed camera, but prevents twice as many accidents.