ARTICLE: Psychoanalytic Theory in Marketing

History, Definition, Current Practices

History of Psychoanalytic Theory in Marketing:

Introduced to marketing research in 1939, by Ernest Dichter from Vienna as “interesting new ideas which can help (corporate executives) be more successful, effective, sell more and communicate better with potential clients.” Dichter’s new psychographics approach, called the “Depth Interviewâ€? consisted of one-on-one sessions of with about 100 interviewees, who were encouraged to freely-associate the product to other impulses in their lives. Eventually, Dichter founded the Institute for Motivational Research to apply his method to corporate marketing and sales.

Psychoanalytic theory is defined by the Borderline Personality Disorder Resource Center ( ) as:

The method of psychological therapy originated by Sigmund Freud in which free association, dream interpretation, and analysis of transference are used to explore repressed or unconscious impulses, anxieties, and internal conflicts, in order to free psychic energy for mature love and work.”

A Brief outline of psychoanalytic theory (written by Dr. T.R. Quigley in1998) is available at and includes many varieties of theory including, but not limited to, Freudian, Lacanian, Alderian, and Object Relations. Freudian theory, the most basic, stems from Vienna in the 1890s, and includes terminology such the Oedipus Complex and the splitting of oneself into the Ego, Id, and Super Ego selves.

Psychoanalytical Research in the New Millenium: (http://www.moline-

A December 1999 article by Linda Obrec, area marketing manager for Sprint PCS in Michigan and northern Ohio, explains that despite its generation of eclipse, motivational (psychoanalytical) research is still used by marketers — mostly in advertising agencies — to gain deeper insights into why consumers behave as they do. “The unconscious mind is recognized as an important source of motivation, and some practitioners find value in probing the thoughts of individuals.â€?

According to Obrec, Dichter’s “depth” interview, in fact, is making a comeback in consumer research. Modified depth interviews are often used in focus groups to elicit ideas for new products and promotional campaigns. Academic researchers acknowledge the historical importance of motivation research as the precursor to lifestyle studies, and again deem it an acceptable research technique for understanding the consumer.

Newer forms of motivation research are also designed to get at the core truths below a person’s surface rationalization. These tools, with snappy names like “Emotional SONAR” and “Emotional Lexicon,” are computer-assisted diagnostic tools.

Supporters: (

Mind Meld Consulting, Inc., a marketing “think tankâ€? which develops psychoanalytic models of consumer behavior for clients in financial services, consumer products, food, and marketing research industries.

Murray Stranks, a speaker at the Brand Revival Conference in Toronto, 2004, attests that psychoanalysis is the key to understanding the unconscious, multidimensional logic of consumer behavior, which controls “nine-tenths of consumer choices.â€?

Anthony Adams, vice president of marketing research at Campbell Soup notes,”it’s not that we’re returning to motivational research, but we are realizing more than ever that emotion is an extremely important part of the communication package for any brand that has a heritage like ours. Customers don’t respond well to a 100 percent rational sell.”

Opposition: (

As Harvard psychologist Dr. Susan Ketelhohn has noted, “Freud was a philosopher, not a scientist. There’s a lack of empirical data to support psychoanalytic theory.â€?

Kevin Clancy of Copernicus Marketing quotes Dichter as once objecting to Pepsi when advertised with ice because he saw “ice is a symbol of deathâ€?. At another time, Dichter admonished engineers of the Ford Edsel for “castrated the vehicle with a gaping hole at the front endâ€?.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.