There's an interesting discussion about Maslow's Hierarchy going on at Nigel Hollis' blog. Hollis is chief global analyst for the Millard Brown research firm, and he always has something interesting to say about brands and social trends.
In his latest post, he kicked off a discussion about the branding implications of Maslow's insight. In short (and this doesn't do his argument justice), Hollis thinks the future of brands may lie in moving up Maslow's Hierarchy from physiological needs (e.g., food and sleep) to the more transcendent (e.g., self-actualization).
As my contribution to the discussion, I pointed out that Maslow, who posited his theory in 1943, might have taken a different approach had he had the benefit of recent discoveries in evolutionary psychology. It seems that the so-called "hierarchy of needs" is not as linear as it first appears. For example, it may be that the need to create shared meaning (which branding trades on) lies not in the upper levels of the hierarchy, but at its base. It could be as basic and necessary as food and shelter.
I suggested that every brand would benefit by finding the Darwinian roots of its promise -- i.e., how it contributes to survival, reproduction and kinship. Nigel generously expanded on the point by suggesting that, whatever needs a brand addresses, the key is to differentiate itself. "Higher order needs are simply an additional means of differentiation," he observes.