I've written before about Ernest Dichter, but the article in a recent issue of the Economist brought it all back. From my unconscious, he would say.
Dr. Dichter was a psychiatrist and a very big subject when I first went into advertising. He was the prime mover in "Motivational Research," which explored the role of the unconscious in the Freudian tradition, applied it to advertising, and got paid for it. Handsomely. The Economist says his income was $1-million a year, equivalent to $8-million today.
From his couch in Croton-on-Hudson, New York, Dichter applied depth psychology to some of the best known products in the country.
"Freud argued that people are governed by irrational, unconscious urges over a century ago," the Economist pointed out. Dichter's "genius was in seeing the opportunity that irrational buying offered for smart selling".
For Ivory soap, Dichter offered that bathing was a ritual, and made this observation: "One of the few occasions when the puritanical American is allowed to caress himself or herself is while applying soap".
For Chrysler, Dichter observed that when convertibles were placed in car dealers' windows as bait, more men came in. He said the convertible symbolized youth, freedom, and the secret wish for a mistress. Of course, when men came back with their wives to make the purchase, they bought sedans.
He suggested that typewriters be modelled after the female body. He said people smoke as a sign of virility and a moment of pleasure, "comparable to breast feeding".
On my first job in Chicago, motivation research was fascinating to me. Our agency was all caught up in it because the president of the firm was on the board of the Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis and made Dichter's thinking a central part of the agency. So I guess I started out as a hidden persuader.
Nothing much came of motivational research in advertising, but I am still convinced that the more we in marketing know about psychology, the better our work can be. Just as Dichter knew how to get close to the customer.
Which is my unconscious motivation for writing about it today.