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  • Marketing Eight Hidden Needs
  • Vance Packard (bio)

Packard, Vance. 1957. Marketing eight hidden needs. In The Hidden Persuaders. New York: Washington Square Press, 68–78. Reprinted with permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

“The home freezer becomes a frozen island of security.”

-From a report, Weiss and Geller advertising agency.

In searching for extra psychological values that they could add to products to give them a more potent appeal, the depth merchandisers came upon many gratifying clues by studying our subconscious needs, yearnings, and cravings. Once the need was identified, and certified to be compelling, they began building the promise of its fulfillment into their sales presentations of such unlikely products as air conditioners, cake mixes, and motorboats. Here we will explore some of the more picturesque applications in merchandising eight of our hidden needs.

Selling emotional security

The Weiss and Geller advertising agency became suspicious of the conventional reasons people gave for buying home freezers. In many cases it found that economically, the freezers didn’t make sense when you added up the initial cost, the monthly cost added on the electric bill, and the amount of frozen leftovers in the box that eventually would be thrown out. When all factors were added, the food that was consumed from the freezer often became very costly indeed.

Its curiosity aroused, the agency made a psychiatric pilot study. The probers found significance in the fact that the home freezer first came into widespread popularity after World War II when many families were filled with inner anxieties because of uncertain ties involving not only food but just about everything else in their lives. These people began thinking fondly of former periods of safety and security, which subconsciously took them back to childhood where there was the mother who never disappointed and love was closely related with the giving of food. The probers concluded: “The freezer represents to many the assurance that there is always food in the house, and food in the home represents security, warmth, and safety.” People who feel insecure, they found, need more food around than they can eat. The agency decided that the merchandising of freezers should take this squirrel factor into account in shaping campaigns.

The same agency found that the air conditioner has a hidden security value of another sort that can be exploited. Some people, its psychiatric probers found, need to feel protected and enclosed and to keep the windows closed at night while they sleep so that nothing “threatening” can enter. These people, it seems, are subconsciously yearning for a return to tile security of the womb.

While the womb-seekers are a highly vulnerable market for air conditioners (already a half-billion-dollar-a-year business), another type of person offers a real challenge to the conditioner salesman. The agency’s probers found that there is a latent claustrophobia in many of us. For those of us in this class the conditioner, far from being a symbol of security, becomes a threat. Its sealed world gives us a feeling of being closed in. The agency concluded that a way would have to be found to give such people open windows and still persuade them to buy air conditioners, but didn’t say how to do it. (Another agency man advised us that many people still feel guilty about installing an air conditioner because “God made bad weather so you should put up with it.” He said, “There is a lot of that attitude, amazingly, left in America.”)

Dr. Dichter advised marketers of do-it-yourself tools and gadgets that they were missing a bet if they were not selling men security as well as gadgets. He advised: “A man concentrating on his tools or his machinery is in a closed world. He is free from the strains of interpersonal relationships. He is engaged in a peaceful dialogue with himself.”

At a showing of children’s furniture in mid-1956 (National Baby and Children’s Show) a combination of high chair, bathinette, and toilet trainer was displayed. The president of the firm said it was calculated to give the child a “home” and a “feeling of security.” Then he added: “Things are getting to the...

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