The Hidden Persuaders
Vance Packard wrote The Hidden Persuaders in 1957 about the new marketing techniques being used at that time. Based mostly upon Freudianism, motivation research (or MR) was used to understand the subconscious minds of the prospective customers and was supposed to be more accurate than using surveys. At that time, marketers were dealing with multiple problems. Customers were irrational and dishonest. What they claimed they would do in the abstract did not always translate into a purchase when put in an actual buying situation. Customers also tended to be content with what they had and products from many competing brands were virtually indistinguishable. Those companies that used MR survived.
The book gives numerous examples of seemingly irrational behavior by customers, Freudian explanations, marketing “hooks”, successful case studies, motivation research techniques, and mentions some demographic trivia. What this book does not do is explain in detail how to analyze the data gleaned from various MR techniques. It is also explained how the same principles used on customers are applied to voters and employees.
One company who used MR marketing successfully was having difficulty selling steam shovels. They emphasized the amazing feats these machines could do and in pictures showed their steam shovels from a distance as mighty machines, but not enough contractors were buying. Finally, they discovered the reason was that many of the employees felt overshadowed and threatened by the machines doing all the work and so discouraged their bosses from buying them. When the steam shovel company made new graphics showing a view from behind the operator’s head and a new slogan emphasizing what the operator could do by using the machine, resistance to the steam shovels vanished and sales rose. The product never changed, only the way it was presented.
The book also touches upon some of the ethical issues surrounding this form of market research. It is warned that a campaign was underway to convince people to replace old appliances that had become obsolete, even if they still worked perfectly fine. This form of thinking still seems to be widespread today. Other forms of thinking that were widespread then seem to have gone away. Today people are wary of being manipulated and become upset when they find out they have been. In the late fifties, however, people tended to be more upset about not being manipulated enough to like being manipulated. It makes me wonder whatever happened to MR and depth marketing. Certainly there are still examples of it being used today, but it seems by no means dominant. Most commercials are still poorly done. Many candidates still cannot seem to make themselves likable. No mention of it is made in the 1981 marketing book Positioning. Perhaps it went out of style when Freudianism went out of style, but if Freudianism was so wrong, how was it able to produce measurable increases in sales? This I do not know.
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My name is Dan. I am an author, artist, explorer, and contemplator of subjects large and small.