The mass market redefines normal
The mass market—which made average products for average people—was invented by organizations that needed to keep their factories and systems running efficiently.
Stop for a second and think about the backwards nature of that sentence.
The factory came first. It led to the mass market. Not the other way around.
Governments went first, because it’s easier to dominate and to maintain order if you can legislate and control conformity. Marketers, though, took this concept and ran with it.
The typical institution (an insurance company, a record label, a bed factory) just couldn’t afford mass customization, couldn’t afford to make a different product for every user. The mindset was: This is the Eagles’ next record. We need to make it a record that the masses will buy, because otherwise it won’t be a hit and the masses will buy something else.
This assumption seems obvious—so obvious that you probably never realized that it is built into everything we do. The mass market is efficient and profitable, and we live in it. It determines not just what we buy, but what we want, how we measure others, how we vote, how we have kids, and how we go to war. It’s all built on this idea that everyone is the same, at least when it comes to marketing (and marketing is everywhere, isn’t it?).
Marketers concluded that the more the market conformed to the tight definition of mass, the more money they would make. Why bother making products for left-handed people if you can figure out how to get left-handed people to buy what you’re already making? Why offer respectful choice when you can make more money from forced compliance and social pressure?
Mass wasn’t always here. In 1918, there were two thousand car companies active in the United States. In 1925, the most popular saddle maker in this country probably had .0001% market share. The idea of mass was hardly even a dream for the producer of just about any object.
At its heyday, on the other hand, Heinz could expect that more than 70 percent of the households in the U.S. had a bottle of their ketchup in the fridge, and Microsoft knew that every single company in the Fortune 500 was using their software, usually on every single personal computer and server in the company.
Is it any wonder that market-leading organizations fear the weird?
The End of Mass
This is a manifesto about the mass market. About mass politics, mass production, mass retailing, and even mass education.
The defining idea of the twentieth century, more than any other, was mass.
Mass gave us efficiency and productivity, making us (some people) rich. Mass gave us huge nations, giving us (some people) power. Mass allowed powerful people to influence millions, giving us (some people) control.
And now mass is dying.
We see it fighting back, clawing to control conversations and commerce and politics. But it will fail; it must. The tide has turned, and mass as the engine of our culture is gone forever.
That idea may make you uncomfortable. If your work revolves around finding the masses, creating for the masses, or selling to the masses, this change is very threatening. Some of us, though, view it as the opportunity of a lifetime. The end of mass is not the end of the world, but it is a massive change, and this manifesto will help you think through the opportunity it represents.