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Remember when you bought a kettle that didn’t last six months, or that printer, which failed just a few weeks after the warranty expired? You may have even taken them to be fixed, but more likely than not, you were told it would be just as cheap to buy a new one. If you’re one of those people who thinks they don’t make things like they used to, you’re spot on, they don’t. This isn’t because they can’t; it’s because they don’t want to.

Planned obsolescence, also known as built-in obsolescence, is a marketing strategy in which products are designed to fail within a designated period. The rationale behind it is that once a product becomes obsolete, either due to a mechanical failure or because it is no longer fashionable, the customer is forced to buy another. As a result, a healthy and robust market for the product is maintained.

The first product to become a victim of this idea was the light bulb. On Christmas Eve 1924, a cartel called Phoebus, which included the largest light bulb manufacturers from all over the world, was created with the primary intention of changing the patents of light bulbs in order to control their consumption. The cartel’s goal was to reduce the lifespan of the average light bulb from 1,500 to 1,000 hours. To do this they appointed a group named The 1,000 Hours Life Committee. This group stringently monitored the cartel’s members and would heavily fine those who didn’t meet this lower standard. As a result, the 1,000 hours mark was reached for the

standard light bulb, one that still stands today.

A real estate trader, Bernard London, first conceived the concept of planned

obsolescence on a wide scale during the Great Depression. In a pamphlet entitled Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence, London suggested that if the government enforced a set life- time on goods, this would spur


the necessary spending to get the country out of its economic slump. Not surprisingly, the government quickly dismissed it. This didn’t mean London was wrong in his thinking, only that he had pitched it to the wrong people.

It was not until 1954 that London’s concept resurfaced, this time in the manufacturing industry itself. Brooks Stevens, an American industrial designer, truly popularized the term, describing it at an


Considering babies grow up fast, the baby industry is one that thrives on planned obsolescence. Parents-to-be don’t have that in mind when they buy an expensive stroller their child will probably refuse to sit in by the time they reach the age of two.

advertising conference in Minneapolis as: “instilling in the buyer the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary.” It was at this point that planned

obsolescence was truly born.

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