Planned Obsolescence

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Planned obsolescence is the industrial tactic of designing, manufacturing, and distributing a product with an inadequate lifespan, as so it will become obsolete specifically to force the consumers to buy the latest generation of said product. These products are put into practice before the next generation is even fully functional; companies like Apple are most famous for doing this. Planned obsolescence has been in use since the beginning of the Great Depression and for the past eighty years the ethical grounds of companies and the reliability of their products has been argued.

As 20th century economist Victor Lebow says in his article on consumer capitalism, Price Competition in 1955: Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption… We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever increasing pace. (Lebow, Price Competition in 1955)

Planned obsolescence goes hand and hand with conspicuous consumption, the act of spending money to acquire luxury goods and services in order to publicly exhibit ones economic power. The 1950s was a time of immense consumption of household goods and services. Tupperware and kitchen appliances were products of vast majority that persistently improved and with conspicuous consumption, was bought. Car commercials today take advantage of American consumers with their annual announcements of new models. Every model is designed with the motive it will be bought. A model only a year older than the one previous can be expected now to include an MP3 playing stereo with hands free cell phone capabilities as well as higher miles per gallon and durability. Although the auto industry is trusted most with reliable products they are still infamous for their use of technical obsolescence. Technical obsolescence is when the cost of repairs is unparalleled with replacement cost. It can be tremendously cheaper to replace a nine or ten year old car rather than repair frame and axel damage from wear and tear or even an accident. (The Daily Green) Style obsolescence also plays factor when the definition of what an attractive product is changes, therefore newer models are made in order to provide a more aesthetically pleasing appeal.

Marketing has always been driven by aesthetic design. By continually introducing fresh designs whilst retargeting and discounting the others, corporations can do what is called “riding the fashion cycle.” The fashion cycle is the repeated introduction, rise, popular culmination, and decline of a style as it progresses through various social strata. (The Daily Green) A certain style of dress is primarily aimed at high income worth and then steadily re-targeted to lower income segments. In the beginning of the Ugg craze, Uggs were going at incredibly high prices and as years pass they depreciate in value. The same cycle happens for designer brands like Coach or Vera Bradley. The fashion cycle will repeat itself in cases when an obsolete product that was once stylish regains popularity and ceases to be obsolete. (New Vision Ireland) Think of the Miami Vice suits, shoulder pads and parachute pants, trends of the 80s that no longer exist yet styles like oversized tops, fingerless gloves, miniskirts and huge earrings have found themselves back in the limelight.

As advanced as the public feels technology is, with the idea of planned obsolescence in manufacturers’ minds, everything is built with a fail safe for producers. Obsolescence by depletion is a form of planned obsolescence used in products like home printers. The color printer is useful for consumers who need to print photos and graphics/charts for presentations, but other than that, there is not always a need to print color. An owner can choose to print only black with their colored ink jet printer except at a price....
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