Dichter, Ernest

Ernest Dichter


Psychologist, advertising expert, and motivation researcher

Austrian-born Ernest (Ernst) Dichter was one of the most important émigrés in the field of advertising and marketing psychology. Dichter studied psychology in Paris and Vienna where he was affiliated with Paul Lazarsfeld’sResearch Center for Economic Psychology. His work focused on practical applications for depth psychology and psychoanalysis. After immigrating to the United States in 1937, he made a career for himself by conducting marketing research for corporations such as Proctor & Gamble.

Along with Pierre Martineau andHerta Herzog, he is considered to be one of the pioneers of motivation research, which became a crucial tool for Madison Avenue advertisers during the 1950s. Rather than relying on empirical market research and polling, Dichter and other motivation researchers relied on in-depth interviews with smaller panels to uncover the hidden motivations of consumers. Their work was central to establishing the notion of “brand image” in marketing. Dichter helped inspire Exxon’s “Put a tiger in your tank” campaign that aimed to associate that animal’s renown for strength and virility with the company’s fuel.

Dichter’s fame rests in part on his efforts to utilize Freudian concepts as well as sexual allusions and desires in advertising campaigns. For this, he drew on his Viennese background and his early work with Lazarsfeld’s institute.After working for advertising and media companies, Dichter established the independent Institute for Motivational Research in 1947. In the postwar decades he became a high-profile consultant to corporations on both sides of the Atlantic as well as a prolific and enthusiastic commentator on American mass consumer culture. Dichter’s company helped popularize what had by now become “American” marketing strategies such as image branding and motivational research in postwar Europe. His success and visibility also made him a target for critics of postwar consumer culture and Vance Packard attacked him in his 1957 expose as one of the “hidden persuaders” manipulating consumers.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Ernest Dichter
  • Coverage 1907-1991
  • Author
  • Keywords ernest dichter, market research, motivation research, vienna, austria, new york, Wirtschaftspsychologische Forschungsstelle, herta herzog, paul lazarsfeld, hans zeisel, exxon, research, advertising, research
  • Website Name Transatlantic Perspectives
  • URL
  • Access Date April 12, 2024
  • Publisher German Historical Institute
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 29, 2018