When considering consumer behavior and how and why consumer make decisions, marketers will sometimes consider aspects of psychoanalytic theory and personality types and traits to help provide insights into individual motivations and drives.
In this article we will look at the benefits and limitations of utilizing psychoanalysis as a marketing tool.
Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Theory
Psychoanalytic theory, primarily attributed to Sigmund Freud, emphasizes the influence of the unconscious mind on behavior.
Within the psychoanalytic theory, it’s crucial to comprehend two main regions of the mind:
- the conscious and
- the unconscious.
The conscious mind consists of the thoughts we’re currently aware of, while the unconscious mind includes emotions, memories, and desires that are beneath our regular perceptual threshold. And where our unconscious mind has a significant influence on our actions, even if we can’t readily access these factors.
Freud’s psychoanalytic theory introduces three parts to the human mind:
- The id, driven by the pleasure principle
- The ego, influenced by the reality principle
- The superego, home to our moral compass
The id is the primal, impulsive part of our personality, operating entirely within the unconscious.
The ego navigates between the desires of the id and the restrictions of the real world, essentially balancing our primal needs and societal expectations.
Lastly, the superego comprises our moral standards and ideals – what we often refer to as our conscience.
To maintain harmony, the mind develops defense mechanisms when it confronts internal conflicts or stressful situations. These subconscious strategies can temporarily alleviate fear, anxiety, or negative feelings. They include denial, repression, projection, displacement, and rationalization, among others.
Linking Personalities and Psychoanalytic Theory
Implementing the understanding of the conscious, unconscious, divisions of the mind, defense mechanisms, psychosexual stages of development, and the relevance of dreams, let’s delve further into how the Psychoanalytic Theory explains compliant, aggressive, and detached personalities.
Compliant Personality Dynamics
In the context of Psychoanalytic Theory, a compliant personality signifies a dominant superego.
This extraordinary power of the superego translates into the individual’s strong recognition of societal norms and moral expectations, thereby inclining them to be more accommodating and compliant. The constant quest for approval and avoidance of disapproval represent their primary expectation-defense mechanism.
- Guilt feelings, if not compliant.
- Strong conscience.
- Usually high in empathy.
Aggressive Personality Dynamics
Aggressive personalities usually manifest from a powerful id, found within the divisions of the mind. The id, the primal end of the psyche, is the seat of aggressive instincts and desires. When not adequately regulated by the ego, individuals may exhibit unchecked aggression.
- Prefer immediate satisfaction.
- Struggle to delay gratification.
- Crave control and domination.
Detached Personality Dynamics
Detached personalities often align with a strong ego as the mediator between external reality, the id’s desires, and the superego’s moral constraints. These individuals may display a higher tendency to withdraw or detach themselves from emotional engagements to protect themselves from potential psychological distress.
- May be aloof or distant in interpersonal relationships.
How Psychology Influences Consumer Behavior
Moving forward from our understanding of the conscious and unconscious mind, let’s drill down into how psychological factors distinctly impact consumer behavior. It’s interesting to see how consumer choices can be influenced by psychological tools that marketers effectively wield.
Some Theories of Influence
While we have discussed divisions of the mind and defense mechanisms, let’s now tap into some theories aiding our understanding of consumer behavior.
- Cognitive Dissonance: This refers to the mental discomfort a consumer faces when they make a decision that contradicts their beliefs or values. Some marketers use this tactic to persuade consumers to change their behavior.
- Theory of Motivation: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs posits there are five types of human needs – physiological, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualization. Marketers utilize these to influence consumers, focusing on specific needs to tailor their marketing messages.
Impact of Social Factors
Our social surroundings and the people within them also affect our consumer behavior.
- Groups Influence: We tend to be influenced by groups we are part of like our family, friends, or colleagues. Marketers often use influencers or celebrities to tap into this peer influence.
- Culture and Subculture: Our cultural backgrounds shape our attitudes, beliefs, and consequently our purchasing behaviors. Understanding this allows marketers to target specific cultural segments effectively.
The Power of Perception and Learning
Our individual perceptions and learning also play significant roles in our purchasing decisions.
- Perception: The way we perceive ourselves, others, and what we wish others perceive in us can significantly influence our buying decisions. This is why many ads are designed to appeal to our self-image or the image we aspire to.
- Learning: Passive learning happens every day through our experiences and interactions. Subtle cues in marketing can trigger learned responses, directing consumers towards certain products or services.
Personality Dynamics and Consumer Behavior
Recall our earlier discussion on compliant, aggressive, and detached personality dynamics? They become particularly stark in the realm of consumer behavior.
- Compliant personalities: They may be more inclined towards friendly, community-oriented brands.
- Aggressive personalities: They might lean toward products offering competition or dominance.
- Detached personalities: They may prefer products that emphasize independence or self-reliance.
Applying Psychoanalytic Theory to Marketing
Targeting the Unconscious Mind
Given that a large part of our decision-making process is driven by our unconscious mind, successful marketing campaigns often aim to tap into these hidden desires and fears.
Color psychology, for instance, leverages this by using specific colors that evoke certain emotional responses.
Leveraging Defense Mechanisms
Defense mechanisms, like repression and denial, can be useful to marketers.
By understanding defense mechanisms, a marketer can construct advertisements that make consumers more comfortable with their purchasing decisions.
Appealing to Id, Ego, and Superego
Marketing campaigns can be designed to appeal to different parts of the mind.
Advertisements can be playful and extravagant to appeal to the Id; practical and logical to appeal to the Ego; or ethical and socially responsible to appeal to the Superego.
Freud’s theory of motivation, based on the pleasure principle, is reflected in marketing practices such as “sex sells,” where marketers create ads that appeal to our base, unconscious desires.
In Freud’s model, the superego often incorporates the values and norms of a society.
Thus, understanding how group dynamics play a role in shaping these norms can help marketers craft messages that align with a group’s values.
Influence of Cultural and Subcultural Factors
Using Freudian principles, marketers understand that culture and subculture significantly influence the formation of the superego.
Tapping Into the Unconscious Mind
The unconscious mind plays a significant role in consumer behavior and marketing. Marketers can leverage this to subtly guide consumers towards their products or services.
This is achieved through subliminal messaging and imagery that align with a consumer’s unconscious desires.
Applying Defense Mechanisms to Marketing Strategies
Consumers may deny or justify their purchasing behaviors, and marketers can use this understanding to craft messages that account for these defense mechanisms.
Marketing’s Ego, Superego, and Id
In the realm of marketing, the id, ego, and superego can be seen as different types of consumers.
The id-type consumer is driven by immediate satisfaction, the ego-type makes decisions based on reality and rationality, and the superego-type prioritizes moral standards.
These psychodynamic theories can help marketers segment their audience and develop targeted marketing strategies.
The Limitations of Psychoanalysis in Marketing
Generalization of Consumer Behavior
Psychoanalysis assumes that all individuals have the same primal desires and respond in the same way to stimulus, which potentially oversimplifies the complexity of consumer behavior. As such, marketers should consider other factors like cultural, social, and personal influences that sway purchasing decisions.
Complexity of the Unconscious Mind
The unconscious mind is not only difficult to access but its contents are also highly individualistic and complex. Thus, while unconscious desires can drive consumption, it may be challenging for marketers to develop broadly effective strategies based on this principle.
Misuse of psychoanalysis in marketing could lead to unethical manipulation of consumers, with negative effects on the brand’s reputation. The responsible application of psychoanalysis requires marketers to respect consumers’ autonomy and not exploit their unconscious vulnerabilities.
Lastly, consumers may react skeptically or negatively if they perceive that a marketing strategy is attempting to delve too deeply into their subconscious or manipulate their unconscious desires.