The Need for Entertainment in Underprivileged Environments

I follow IDEO on Twitter, and came across a retweet they shared: a NYTimes.com article about entertainment content in developing countries. I shared this article with my Kellogg class (Understanding Media & Content), agreeing with the need for entertainment products (read: entertaining mobile content) in developing countries. Why is this important?

As the article stated, there’s a false sense of belief that entertainment content is a luxury, and people who live in poor areas don’t have a need for these. Implicit in the ability to consume entertainment content is the possession of leisure time, which we think people who are poor don’t have, since they’re mostly concerned with surviving the day-to-day. But the article argues in a concrete and relevant way that the need to be entertained is also felt by people in poor areas. They also have wants, not just single-mindedly pursuing necessities for survival. Entertainment products seem like a luxury because of the monetization models and branding tactics constructed by marketers (like me and my colleagues) around these products.

This topic about human needs reminded me of this HBR piece about meaning as a human problem, not just a “first world” or a “privileged” one. Questions of meaning, purpose and existence are asked by all kinds of people, whether rich, poor, from the developed, or developing worlds.

We have universal desires as human beings, and among these are meaning and entertainment. Along with utility and social recognition. Manfred Max-Neef, a renowned human development theorist, claims that there are a set of fundamental needs that originate from being human. These include: subsistence, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity and freedom.

Right up there is leisure. Low socioeconomic status does not eliminate this need. In fact, the search for entertainment is perhaps more prevalent in poor areas, and it could even be argued that it is a tool for survival. Entertainment is a form of escape, a way to get them acquainted with a world outside of their own. It can also spark creativity, and with that, imagination and potentially ambition, both of which could not be underestimated as a catalyst for upward mobility.

A few years ago, I wrote about how marketers can reach poor people in the developing world, particularly in rapidly developing economies in Asia (read: China). P&G has taken this seriously, employing and deploying its in-house researchers to understand the changes in that part of the world.

So P&G, here is what I found that can help inform strategies of consumer products companies like yours. In simple terms: Providing entertaining content is a key to draw consumers and mobile technology is the tool for distribution. Content is cheap to produce nowadays. You only really have to think about a mobile distribution system that encompasses basic to feature phones that is effective and efficient. Create a recipe that combines both and master this to court consumers. But, please: maintain social responsibility when pursuing consumers who have almost next to nothing. Offer them valuable products that enrich their lives, that are worth their money and time, the little of both they have. Not things they don’t need to survive. When it comes to products, there is a difference between fundamental needs, and constructed wants.

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