Imagine this: the bottom of your shoes starts to come off and a hole begins along the side where your arch is, so you decide you should get a new pair. You go to the store and after looking for some time decide on a nice new pair of, say, Nikes.

After wearing these new Nikes for a few days, you start to feel they don’t match your worn jacket, which makes you feel the need to replace the old jacket with something that will create a better look with the Nikes, something you can feel more fresh in.

You get the jacket. Then, inevitably, you get new jeans with the jacket to complete the look, maybe even a new wristwatch.

This, my friends, is the Diderot Effect. It has two formal definitions. First, it means goods purchased by consumers will be cohesive to their sense of identity, and as a result, will be complementary to one another. And second, the introduction of a new possession that is deviant from the consumer’s current complementary goods can result in a process of spiraling consumption.

This phenomenon was first coined in the essay “Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown, or
A warning to those who have more taste than fortune.”

It’s classic consumerism and important to be aware of the next time you’re feeling like something you once loved could use a bit of an update.

I’m finishing up Seth Godin’s book All Marketers are Liars. There are a lot of major ideas in the book. This post is a taste.

Marketers tell us stories. A great example of this deals with car buying. If you buy a Prius, you’re communicating to the world that you’re smart and eco-friendly. If you buy a Jaguar, you’re communicating that you value class and can afford expensive tastes. If you don’t buy a mini-van, it’s because you don’t want to be seen as a soccer mom.

It doesn’t matter that the Jaguar is made by Ford or that it isn’t as reliable as, say, a Honda.

It doesn’t matter that the SUV you bought instead of the mini-van is more dangerous, less fuel efficient, and less comfortable.

Sometimes these stories are true like with Starbucks and providing a great coffee experience. Sometimes they’re not like with Beats headphones, which don’t actually provide great sound quality for their price point.

The power of the placebo is real.

What’s it matter if the expensive, organic soap you got was made considerably cheaply and doesn’t offer that noticeable of a difference in terms of cleanliness? It’s about the story that you get to tell yourself about the type of person that you are because you bought that soap. It’s about how you got to feel buying it at the store. As Seth would say, it’s about the lie that you told yourself.

Seth’s point throughout the book is that all marketers aren’t liars. No, they’re storytellers. They’re telling you stories that relate to the lies you tell yourself.

But it’s more complex than that.

Because sometimes the storytelling is actually manipulative and harmful to our health and to the world.

It’s a great book. It’s intentionally provocative, and I don’t agree with everything, but it’s compelling at the least. I highly suggest you give it a try.


Any time you say there are two types of anything, you’ve set yourself up for being wrong. Life is much too complex and nuanced for bifurcations, just as it is for absolutes; always and never are almost always never the right thing to say.

Notwithstanding these facts, saying there are two types of marketers is useful to demonstrate a point.

Recently, I came across this post: The 20 Best Marketing Podcasts (From the Playlists of CEOs & Marketers).

As someone interested in marketing, I decided to queue most of these in my podcast feed. What I discovered was that a lot of these marketers are the prototypical marketing scum; namely, they’re greedy. They do what generates traffic and an audience rather than what they actually believe, they spend their time thinking and worrying about how to scale their business rather what really matters in life (the legacy they’re leaving), and they follow marketing trends rather than create meaningful projects. We might call these the Greedy Marketers.

On the other hand, there are the Meaningful Marketers like Seth Godin. Seth is pushing hard to create insightful content. He pushes his audience to “make a ruckus” by challenging the status quo and doing the work that matters most by finding the minimum viable market. He isn’t worried about being the richest, so he isn’t chasing trends.

He’s taking the Star Trek approach rather than the Beverly Hillbillies one by focusing on developing a project that is substantive rather than appealing to mass markets.

This marketing approach isn’t centered around secret tactics or guile. It focuses on meaningful ideas that spread or quality content worth sharing.

In both camps, there is a niche understanding about human nature – the relationships between how people see themselves and how they’d like to see themselves, the tension between status and authority, and the elements that define perception. All marketers, in other words, study what makes us resonate with stuff and why. But the difference lies in those who use it to manipulate and those who use it help people be their best selves and become creators.