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The difference between wants, needs and desires?(Economics)

  1. Jun 11, 2011 #1
    Hey guys,

    I was in an argument with someone about economics. I told him that advertisers want confuse a consumer's need with his/her want by making the wants more desirable. The person then asked me whats the difference between the three, but I was surprised that I couldn't give a clear answer and accurately define the three and how they relate to each other. I use the terms all the time, but I never really looked into what they mean...

    btw would electricity be categorized as a want or a need?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 11, 2011 #2


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    That's not a good example. When did you last see an advert on TV or the internet for "electricity"? There is plenty of advertising of "stuff" related to electricity usage, but not much (if any) for electricity itself.

    A better example would be food.

    "Need" = X calories per day, with a reasonable balance of nutrients and a minimum of harmful contaminants.

    "Want" = [insert your favorite brand names here].
  4. Jun 12, 2011 #3
    What are you asking?

    There is no difference in economics between "wants" and "needs" - these are social or political terms. Economics deals only with the concept of demand: things people are willing to pay for, and how much they are willing to pay.

    Your friend was right to challenge you on this - people have a bad habit of repeating certain heard certainties without ever asking why they're so certain. The "advertisers confuse consumers" meme is such a certainty. Why do you imagine that people are so easily misled, and how is it that you alone are wise enough to see through it? It doesn't make any sense if you stop and think about it.
  5. Jun 12, 2011 #4


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    Advertising does, of course, seek to stigmatize those NOT buying their products, for example by portraying THEIR customers as happy, cool, with lots of friends, good looks and a lovely family life.

    the subliminal message is that those not buying their products will be worse off in those respects.
  6. Jun 12, 2011 #5
    I agree with much of what you said, but I never thought myself as having special knowledge on anything. It seems like you're twisting something that's not even my main question into a straw-man. Advertisers do seek to make consumers more obligated to get what they are selling, do they not?
  7. Jun 12, 2011 #6
    As already mentioned ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ aren’t really terms of art in economics but there’s a whole field, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Behavioral_economics" [Broken], dedicated to ‘cognitive bias’ which from your example is probably what you’re referring to.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  8. Jun 13, 2011 #7
    Ok, thanks for pointing me in the right direction. I'll change the tititle of the topic to behavioral economics so I can hopefully get more relevant responses.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  9. Jun 13, 2011 #8
    It seems I cant change the title....can a mod please do so? Or should I make a new topic? (Sorry for double posting)
  10. Jul 28, 2011 #9
    An advertiser wants to create a need for their product or service, the consumer needs to prioritize their own wants and needs and make purchasing decisions. When the advertisaer convinces the consumer to change their priorities - it's either based upon actual need, a basic personal want, or an artificial want created by the marketing effort (cha-ching! - sorry).
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