Dear Marky and Addie,
Your old Gramps5 was mightily flattered that you wanted to know the story of how marketing took over the known universe. Frankly, I'm a little surprised I'm still here to tell it. Why, at the turn of the last century, Viagra was a newfangled invention. Who coulda thunk that Pfizer would eventually be able to extend my life, too?
Heh, heh, heh.
Now a lot of people think they know when the revolution began. Some say it started when Mayor Al Sharpton hired both a TV production studio and a giant PR agency to repair the image of the New York City Police Department, and their solution was to merge them all together into Hill, Street, Blues & Knowlton. (The series is still running.) The history books will tell you the big change began in 2008, when President-elect Winfrey, fresh from a victorious campaign waged entirely through her magazine, Web site, book club, cable network, movies and syndicated TV talk show, went down to the corner of Madison Avenue and 42nd Street and declared, "Ich bin ein marketer!"
But the revolution really began earlier. No, it wasn't the hostile takeover that created Young & Rubiclick. It wasn't the flood of Generation Z coming-of-age products (remember Teletubbies condoms?). It wasn't the Euro-American consumer-product wars that led U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Drexler to decry the Gap gap and send the Old Navy to bomb Petit Bateau and turn France into a Banana Republic. No, ol' Gramps5 can tell you categorically the triumph of marketing began during one of pre-modern society's darkest hours: the Great Crash of Y2K and the subsequent witch hunt for the dot-commieswho screwed up the economy.
You see, kids, once upon a time, people, smart people, thought there existed a thing called "competitive advantage." They believed -- and you'll have to forgive an aged man's reversion to the slang of his youth -- that "proprietary technology" combined with "first-mover supremacy" could create a "market lockout" by which one and only one company in a category would survive. This was during an era a lot of folks were calling "the New Economy," when none of the old rules were supposed to apply and the stock tables in The Wall Street Journal started sporting an ¥ symbol in the P-E column and fanatic disciples of the cult leader Bezosbub would empty their wallets into day trading accounts and sacrifice small animals to a goddess named Mary Meeker. It was a strange time, but it didn't seem strange to us.
The burning bush of the New Economy was a thing called Windows. Windows was what they called an operating system, which enabled what they called application programs to talk to what they called computers. At the time, computers were a really big thing -- so big they had to sit on your lap instead of being implanted in your cortex, fingertips and the walls of your house -- so getting them to talk to application programs was an important and lucrative business that was dominated by a company named Microsoft.
Now, not everything needed an operating system. Your food didn't need an operating system to talk to your microwave. I didn't need an operating system to talk to your Grandma5. But it didn't