The need and the desire. Part One

We can define a need as a perception of a person of a lack or lack of something he needs. Such perception goes beyond basic needs, so that an individual can identify their desires as needs, thus constituting the psychological and social origin of consumption.


We often confuse need and desire, and this differentiation is of paramount importance in all that constitutes our way of life and the social model in which we are immersed, and has a very significant relation with our beliefs, values ​​and motivations, and also with the mastery of passions and emotions, virtues and psychoanalysis, and globally, with economics and marketing, with innovation and modernity. Again we are faced with an issue that requires a multidisciplinary approach.

From the point of view of marketing and innovation of products and services it is very useful to distinguish the following concepts:

  1. Need or desire perceived or identified: The client requires something and is aware of it. You can find out by asking the customer.
  2. Desire not perceived: The client requires something but is not aware of it. It can not be determined by direct techniques, but must be extrapolated from indirect information: lifestyle, consumption habits, influence of direct advice, sensitivity to mass marketing campaigns, etc.
  3. Future desire: The future wishes of the client refer to all those products and services that will arise to change their way of life. They are closely linked to technological advances.
  4. Latent or potential need: it belongs to the fundamental demands of the person. It is identified only when it is expressed.
  5. Need created: Appears after the launch of a new product or service.

From Maslow to the theory of dynamic needs

Human needs have been defined historically. One of the best known contributions is the pyramid of Maslow, which ranks them in increasing order in:

  • Physiological
  • Security
  • Social (belonging and love, affection or possession, association, affiliation)
  • esteem (self-respect and esteem of others, desire for strength, sufficiency, mastery, competence, trust, independence, freedom, reputation, prestige)
  • Self-realization (realization of own potential)

Richard Barrett’s 7 Levels of Consciousness Model expands Maslow’s pyramid to “higher levels” as soon as we have satisfied the lower levels.

The ERC (Existence, Relationship and Growth) theory proposed by Alderfer redefines Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in these three categories: existence needs (basic for survival), relationship needs (aspirations, group identification, recognition, fame) and growth needs (personal development / self-realization and progress).

Hull’s theory of reduction of impulse says that as human beings we are motivated to satisfy our physiological needs (impulses: thirst, hunger, sleep, procreation, achievement, progress, social identity, recognition, personal fulfillment …).

The latest trends recognize needs as a dynamic set in the different stages of personal growth and for different cultural and social environments.

Necessity becomes a motive when it reaches an adequate level of intensity, therefore, the motivation can be defined as the search for the satisfaction of the need that diminishes the tension caused by it.

Lack and scarcity

Deficiency can be defined as the lack or deficiency of a basic need (or function) commonly related to survival, and therefore, directly affect people’s lives: movement, food and liquids, clean air, adequate temperature, evacuation, rest and sex (this last need on a social level determines the survival of the species). This lack is also known as UBN (Unmet basic needs).

We can also define the need from the scarcity: When it reaches a certain level of lack, that is, when it becomes very intense, it becomes a necessity. Hence, need can be defined as a lack felt by the brain. The lack will be transformed into necessity depending on the resistance of each individual and their experiences regarding the satisfaction of certain needs.

Scarcity is a concept similar to the aggregate lack of a social group, and generally refers to the lack of basic resources such as water, food, energy, housing, etc. although it can be understood as extended to other non-basic resources. Scarcity can arise through inequality or accumulation, demand and supply, or artificially.

Scarcity implies that all (infinite?) Human needs can not be satisfied since sufficient resources can not be achieved given their limitation. Consequently, scarcity implies that it is not possible to achieve all the objectives of society at the same time, so that priorities must be established.

Needs throughout history

Marx‘s perspective focuses mainly on the concept of scarcity or lack, it means the lack of goods to cover it and overcoming it is imposed on the subject with high priority to be able to continue his individual life. Marx distinguishes between permanent impulses such as hunger and the sexual instinct, which are modified in the manner of expressing it according to the cultural context, and relative impulses, whose origin depends on the social structure and conditions of communication and production.

Durkheim, from his theories on anomie, describes that human appetites are insatiable, and that only a moral authority can stop the unlimited needs of the human being. This author defines social facts as ways of acting, thinking and feeling, which are external to the individual, being the basic characteristics that represent these facts, exteriority, coercion and collectivity.

Georg Simmel, on the other hand, rejects that poverty is defined by an amount, or lack of money, since it establishes that the poor are from the comparison with the living standards of their community, maintaining a relativistic point of view of poverty.

Max Weber insists that the motivation and ideas of the human being are the forces that drive change, Weber maintains that individuals have the ability to act freely and shape their future.

Marcuse, belonging to the Frankfurt School, distinguishes between false and true needs. As true refers to the individual’s own basic (eg, biological, like eating) and false as those that society marks the individual (eg those conditioned by a social status).

According to Parsons, society is composed of three subsystems that correlate with the three types of needs: the personality system (individual needs and motivations), the cultural system (shared values ​​and beliefs) and the social system (variety of social roles and standards).

Malinowsky points out that the human being has to satisfy certain needs, and that the satisfaction of these needs to be sought simultaneously in the social and the individual. It determines the needs as values ​​of use and as symbolic values.

For Habermas who represents the second generation of the Frankfurt School, his approach is that being undermined under certain norms of well-being is another way of saying that states of necessity are nothing more than social norms expressed individually. That is, the criteria for assessing needs have to do with social norms. In this way, it rejects the objectivity and universality of the needs and raises the idea that the satisfaction of a necessity is linked to a symbolic structure, to the sociocultural level and established social norms.

The wishes

Wishes (Desires) differ from generic needs in that, just as they are stable and limited in number, desires are manifold, changing, and continually influenced by social forces. Needs pre-exist to market supply, however, desires may be product of the market. The goal of marketing is to create desires in individuals, make products attractive and available to the consumer.

Mimetic desire

Some thinkers like René Girard consider mimetic desire the central mechanism in the construction of human relations.

For Girard man is substantially desire. But it is in a peculiar way: the desire to formulate has to perceive the threat of another. We are constitutively mimetic beings. We desire what others desire, and reciprocally, others desire what we desire. The desire is an existential drama that is played in three bands, we, the others and desired thing – that would not be such if others did not want it too.

The word “mimesis” (copy, imitation) was already used by Aristotle in the Poetics, when he observed that “man differs from other animals in that he is most apt for imitation.” Girard observes that imitation does not follow a linear (subject-object / imitator-imitated) scheme, but that the scheme of desire is triangular: subject-model- object.

Girard’s theses are not only used today to explain biblical theory or Greek mythology, but there are economists who have applied them to describe the mechanisms of manipulation of desire in marketing and the triggering of economic crises. The excess of consumption would be, in his opinion, a consequence of the fact that modernity has exacerbated mimetic desire.


If you want to know a little bit more …


Maslow, A.H. (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation. (Extended by the Original Article Published in Psychological Review, 50, 370-396. Reprint 2013 Martino Publishing)

Barret, R. (2016) La Organización impulsada por valores. Liberando el potencial humano para maximizar rendimiento y beneficios. Lulu Publishing Services.

Barrett, R. (2010?) From Maslow to Barrett. Overview of the Origins of the Seven Levels of Consciousness Model. Barrett Values Centre.

Barrett, R. (2006) Building a Values-Driven Organization: A Whole System Approach to Cultural Transformation. Elsevier.

Alderfer, C.P. (1969) An empirical test of a new theory of human needs. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance Vol 4, Issue 2, May 1969, Pages 142-175.

Marcuse, H. (1993) El hombre unidimensional. Ensayo sobre la ideología de la sociedad industrial avanzada. Planeta-Agostini. (trad. Ed. Ariel, 1968).

Marx, K . (2013) Manuscritos de economía y filosofía. Barcelona. Alianza.

Parsons, T. (1999) El sistema Social. Madrid. Alianza.

Simmel, G. (1986) El individuo y la libertad. Ensayos de crítica de la cultura. Barcelona. Península.

Weber, M. (1994) Economía y Sociedad. México. Fondo de Cultura Económica.

Malinowski, B. (1944) A Scientific Theory of Culture, and Other Essays. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

Habermas, J. (1981) Teoría de la acción comunicativa. 2 volúmenes. Madrid. Taurus.

Durkheim, É. (1967) De la división del trabajo social. Buenos Aires. De. Schapire.


Other web pages of interest in the subject: