Freud on Madison Avenue

9780812222265: Paperback
Release Date: 24th January 2013

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 232

University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.

Freud on Madison Avenue

Motivation Research and Subliminal Advertising in America

Freud on Madison Avenue tells the story of how and why mid-twentieth-century advertisers adopted Freudian psychology to sell products. This study follows the careers of Paul Lazarsfeld, Herta Herzog, James Vicary, Alfred Politz, Pierre Martineau, Edward Bernays, and the father of motivational research, Ernest Dichter.

Paperback / £19.99

What do consumers really want? In the mid-twentieth century, many marketing executives sought to answer this question by looking to the theories of Sigmund Freud and his followers. By the 1950s, Freudian psychology had become the adman's most powerful new tool, promising to plumb the depths of shoppers' subconscious minds to access the irrational desires beneath their buying decisions. That the unconscious was the key to consumer behavior was a new idea in the field of advertising, and its impact was felt beyond the commercial realm.

Centered on the fascinating lives of the brilliant men and women who brought psychoanalytic theories and practices from Europe to Madison Avenue and, ultimately, to Main Street, Freud on Madison Avenue tells the story of how midcentury advertisers changed American culture. Paul Lazarsfeld, Herta Herzog, James Vicary, Alfred Politz, Pierre Martineau, and the father of motivation research, Viennese-trained psychologist Ernest Dichter, adapted techniques from sociology, anthropology, and psychology to help their clients market consumer goods. Many of these researchers had fled the Nazis in the 1930s, and their decidedly Continental and intellectual perspectives on secret desires and inner urges sent shockwaves through WASP-dominated postwar American culture and commerce.

Though popular, these qualitative research and persuasion tactics were not without critics in their time. Some of the tools the motivation researchers introduced, such as the focus group, are still in use, with "consumer insights" and "account planning" direct descendants of Freudian psychological techniques. Looking back, author Lawrence R. Samuel implicates Dichter's positive spin on the pleasure principle in the hedonism of the Baby Boomer generation, and he connects the acceptance of psychoanalysis in marketing culture to the rise of therapeutic culture in the United States.


1. The Psychology of Everyday Living
2. The Sophisticated Sell
3. The Secret Pitch
4. The Fertile Moment
5. The Psychology of the World of Objects


Lawrence R. Samuel is the founder of Culture Planning LLC and the author of several books, including Rich: The Rise and Fall of American Wealth Culture and Future: A Recent History.

"This bracing tour of the psycho-cultural badlands of advertising is sure to provoke the reader's imagination. Nobody charts commercial history like Lawrence Samuel."—John F. Sherry, Jr., University of Notre Dame

"Pull up a couch. Open your mind to this incisive, intriguing and intelligent revelation of how psychological analysis transformed modern advertising."—John Bowman, Global Director of Strategic Equities, Saatchi & Saatchi

"The first-ever look at the powerful yet controversial beginnings of the consumer research industry that exists today. Brilliant, thorough, and fascinating."—Megan Kent, Founder, Brand Synchronicity

"A good book. . . . The work is insightful, well-written and is an excellent introduction to this important area of business history."—Business History

"Commercial historian Lawrence R. Samuel presents a rich, detailed, and fascinating look at the historical evolution of motivation (aka motivational) research."—Journal of Consumer Research

"If you have any interest in marketing research, advertising, or communications, this book deserves a place on your shelf."—Neal M. Burns, University of Texas at Austin

"Freud on Madison Avenue offers a valuable window into life in the United States in the 1950s, a time when consumerism was being rethought and Freud's influence was at its zenith."—American Journal of Sociology

"In Freud on Madison Avenue, Lawrence R. Samuel delves deep into the consumerist 'Mad Men' of midcentury, explaining how the subconscious mind could be imprinted for commerce, which laid the foundation for consumer insights, brand imagery, and disruptive creative ideas. A terrific read!"—John Gerzema, Chief Insights Officer, Young & Rubicam and author of The Brand Bubble