I've been reading Seth Godin for a couple months now, and there is not a lot that I disagree with him on - but this is one of them. Not so much at a cursory level, but at the underlying, elemental level of marketing.
Basically, he states in his blog that, "Marketers sell hope."
I have to disagree with this. And I believe this because, in my opinion before marketers can sell hope, they must sell the need for hope. People don't necessarily buy things because of what those things bring to their lives, unless they first feel the absence of something in their lives.
So first must come the absence of hope - the despair.
And thus, I think marketers must initially market the problem. Then, and only then, can marketers successfully market the product (the hope that the product brings forth).
In some instances, the despair is known - and thus all that needs to be done is to clearly understand what that problem is and market the hope of fulfilling it. But when the despair is not clear, or there isn't any at all, then the marketer must generate the despair before he can effectively market hope.
When McDonald's runs a Big Mac ad, they first want you to feel hungry (if you don't already), hence the initial images try to invoke you to be hungry - generate the need. Then they want you to see them as the one who truly understands your needs, so that you will turn to them to provide the solution - running out to the local Golden Arches for a late night snack.
Or when you see a Lite Beer commercial, often there are a bunch of "geeky" guys who can't buy a date (which many young men in America feel), but then they buy and drink a Lite Beer and "all of the sudden", women are flocking to their side. First they sold the problem, got buy-in with their target audience that they understood the problem and then marketed hope.