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Ernest Dichter (14 August 1907 – 21 November 1991) was an Austrian-American psychologist and marketing expert known as the "father of motivational research." Dichter pioneered the application of Freudian psychoanalytic concepts and techniques to business — in particular to the study of consumer behavior in the marketplace. Ideas he established were a significant influence on the practices of the advertising industry in the twentieth century. Dichter promised the "mobilisation and manipulation of human needs as they exist in the consumer". As America entered the 1950s, the decade of heightened commodity fetishism, Dichter offered consumers moral permission to embrace sex and consumption, and forged a philosophy of corporate hedonism, which he thought would make people immune to dangerous totalitarian ideas. According to a New York Times article in 1998, he "was the first to coin the term focus group and to stress the importance of image and persuasion in advertising". In Vance Packard's book on Dichter and his practices, he recalls meeting Dichter in his castle and finding children watching televisions while resident psychologists, crouching behind special screens secretly filmed and studied their every action so that they could inform advertisers how to manipulate their unconscious minds. Dichter called such focus groups his "living laboratory". One such session led to the invention of the Barbie Doll: "What they wanted was someone sexy looking, someone that they wanted to grow up to be like," Dichter reported, "Long legs, big breasts, glamorous." To Packard, Dichter's gothic mansion was a sinister factory that manufactured and implanted self-destructive desires.
In 1939 he sent out a cover letter describing himself as: "a young psychologist from Vienna ... with some interesting new ideas which can help you be more successful, effective, sell more and communicate better."
In 1946 he founded the Institute for Motivational Research in Croton-on-Hudson, New York (later in his home in Peekskill) and in the succeeding years founded similar institutes in Switzerland and Germany. He died on 21 November 1991 in Peekskill, New York.
Dichter was the author of 17 books, including:
- The Handbook of Consumer Motivations
- Motivating Human Behavior
- The Naked Manager
- Packaging, the Sixth Sense?: a guide to identifying consumer motivation
- Total Self-Knowledge
- Getting Motivated
- The Strategy of Desire
- How Hot a Manager Are You?
- Marketing Plus: finding the hidden gold in the market place
- The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard (1956) contains many references to Dichter and his findings.
- Edward Bernays (Nephew of Sigmund Freud and the creator of the field of Public Relations, a marketing concept similar to motivational research in its inspiration by psychoanalytical theory)
- Cigarette Seduction by Alan Brody (2007) contains key references to Dichter and his work on cigarette brands and smoker's motivation.
- Turner, Christopher (2012). "The Hidden Persuader". Cabinet 44.
- Packard, Vance (1956). The Hidden Persuaders.
- Schwarzkopf, Stefan and Gries, Rainer, ed. (2010). Ernest Dichter and Motivation Research: New Perspectives on the Making of Post-war Consumer Culture. London: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-230-53799-6.
- "Retail therapy. How Ernest Dichter, an acolyte of Sigmund Freud, revolutionised marketing". The Economist. December 17, 2011. Retrieved 2012-01-01. "In 1939 he wrote to six big American companies, introducing himself as 'a young psychologist ..."
- The View From Peekskill; Tending the Flame of a Motivator – New York Times, 2 August 1998
- Libido can rule when the id does the shopping – UniNews, University of Melbourne, 1–15 December 2003
- Retail therapy; How Ernest Dichter, an acolyte of Sigmund Freud, revolutionised marketing, The Economist, 17 December 2011
- Ernest Dichter, Father of Motivational Research (German) – a 2005 symposium at the University of Vienna
- Ernest Dichter Institut (Germany) – founded 1971, http://www.dichter.ch / Dichter Research Zürich Switzerland founded (1947) 2004
- Ernest Dichter papers at the Hagley Museum and Library
- Ernest Dichter papers, Series I. Research Proposals and Reports at Hagley Museum and Library