THE BIRTH OF "CONSUMER INSIGHTS"

No matter how fancy Planning gets, Creatives will ask one question: “What’s the insight”? Quite right too. One of the all - time Creative geniuses of BBDO, Phil Dusenberry, put it this way: “One great insight is worth a thousand good ideas”. 

So, who invented the notion of consumer insights and developed new methodologies to discover them? Sigmund Freud, the father of Psychoanalysis, discovered that people were often irrational and governed by unconscious urges. Ernest Dichter [also from Vienna] spun this insight into a million-dollar business. Trained as a psychoanalyst, Dichter saw human motivation as an “iceberg”, with two-thirds hidden from view. Frustrated with just “nose counting”, big corporations like Procter & Gamble, Exxon, Chrysler, General Mills and DuPont sought Dichter’s insight from 1930 to 1960 – making him the undisputable father of motivational research. 

To understand what truly motivated people, Dichter believed that “if you let them talk long enough, you can read between the lines to find out what they really mean”. To do this he used the Freud’s psychoanalytic technique of free association - letting respondents talk about what came to mind on a topic. He also invented the “focus group” that is still our major qualitative tool today.  

Now for some of his consumer insights.

Betty Crocker’s instant cake mixes is the quintessential example of Dichter at work. What could have been a bigger hit than simply just adding water to the mix and voila, you’re ready to serve cake.  The perfect product, right? Wrong. Housewives rejected the product. Huge flop. Insight: they felt unconscious guilt at doing nothing. Solution: let them add in an egg to make “their cake”. 

“The soap that floats” was in trouble. “Why don’t you use it?” rational research was getting the team nowhere. Dichter was brought in and conducted “depth interviews” about respondents’ most recent “scrubbing” experiences. Insight: bathing is a ritual that afforded rare moments of personal indulgence. He discerned an erotic element to bathing, observing that it’s “one of the few occasions when the puritanical American [is] allowed to caress himself or herself [is] while applying soap.”  How would you like to do work based on that insight?

Another case that made Dichter famous was for Chrysler. The problem was that it was not able to move product off the showroom floor. Chrysler’s convertibles only made up 2% of sales in 1939.  However, Dichter found that most men, but particularly middle-aged ones, dreamed of owning one. When convertibles were placed in the windows of dealerships as “bait”, more men came in. But when they returned to actually make the purchase, they typically came with their wives and chose a sensible sedan. The insight: the convertible symbolized youth, freedom and the secret wish for a mistress, an idle bit of temptation. He suggested that Chrysler beef up its convertible advertising—and, in recognition of spouses' role in the final decision, begin marketing cars in women's magazines. Now that’s insightful marketing. 

Dichter always generated far out consumer motivations. Esso called him in. The motorist wants his car to have more power, he concluded. “Put a tiger in your tank” was invented. That’s probably the longest lasting, most profitable gasoline slogan ever. 

For a cigarette brand Dichter, generated two directions: 1] that it is a sign of virility and 2] that it is a legitimate excuse to interrupt the day for a moment of pleasure. 

Prunes had an image problem. Dichter found them to be perceived as a “symbol of old age”, like “dried-out spinsters”. To inspire demand, he suggested that they be branded the “California Wonderfruit” and feature fresh, supple plums on the packaging. Prunes have been marketed using images of their younger selves ever since.

Enough examples. That then is the birth of consumer insights. The more compelling the insight, the more compelling the creative work. That’s an eternal truth of the business.