The Intelligent Man’s Guide to: Consumerism (Part 3: Brands and Social Deception)

branding brand consumer society confused consumer

Would you like to “put a tiger in your tank”?

You see, I don’t own a car. That’s why I’m asking.

Anyway, it turns out a lot of people were indeed interested in putting tigers in their tanks. Surprisingly many!

Why is that?

That’s for Ernest Dichter to know, and for you to find out.

The Intelligent Man's Guide to: Consumerism (Part 3: Brands and Social Deception)

Ernest Dichter is credited with a plethora of innovations. Including putting the speedometer in the car dashboard (to provide feedback for fast-driving men) and putting candy by the register in grocery stores (to make mothers feel less guilty about buying it for their kids).

Ernest Dichter, Motivational Research, Subconscious Motives, and the Invention of the Brand

While Edward Bernays and Christine Frederick pioneered their big ideas quite early (Propaganda in 1928 & Selling Mrs. Consumer in 1929), those ideas did not take root in the business world until many years later.

Ernest Dichter used both of their ideas to come up with his own innovations for the advertising industry and business world.

This happened some time right after WW2 (1945 and forward). . .

. . . When the U.S economy–AGAIN–faced a situation where it had an excessively large productive capacity owing to its factories, but was met with a frugal public (as a result of going to war, where little profits were made by anyone except the big industrialists who teamed up with the government as the “standard contractors”–like GM, Chrysler, Lockheed).

And–AGAIN–the advertising industry had to concoct the ELIXIR for making the national consumption of goods meet total supply capacity.

The conventional wisdom of marketing at the time was to treat the customer like “a small company”; a highly rational decision-maker.

The conventional wisdom had not yet caught up with the wisdom of Edward Bernays or Christine Frederick.

However, it was not far behind now.

Many big companies, and influential people in the advertising industry, had started distrusting conventional market research methods such as polling.

Because they realized that people have a tendency to LIE or give DISHONEST answers (often unconsciously).

This was a big problem, because it kept the companies from collecting valuable feedback. And selling a lot more products.

People like Henry Ford understood that. . .

. . .there is a BIG difference between what people SAY and actually DO.

At the time, only a few people understood this.

Today most people STILL do NOT get it, they are unable to discern between:

a) Honest answers.

b) Socially conditioned answers given under a pretense of honesty, in order to appear politically correct and adhere to popular opinion.

(This is why every young girl says she wants environmentally friendly clothing, but buys the cheap H&M clothing made in Indian factories.)

This is what Ernest Dichter specialized in; peeling off the outer layers of political correctness and uncovering the inner layers of the subconscious.

Ernest Dichter, like Bernays, combined Freudian psychology with business skills to create new methods of advertising and marketing. He coined the practice of “motivational research“.

It was called “motivational research” because its purpose was to find out the subconscious psychological motivators for why people buy–or, just as important, do not buy–a product.

Motivational research, unlike traditional advertising methods, did NOT emphasize the use of polling, statistics or quantitative research. Instead, it was heavily “unscientific”, relying on in-depth interviews and focus groups.

Dichter and his colleagues would ask indirect questions, play games and watch movies with the interviewees. It was like a mix between a psychoanalytic session and a playground.

We don’t go out and just askwhy do you buy this or that?

His focus groups mostly consisted of women (who were given free products to play with and discuss with each other–and loved it–while Dichter peeked on them from behind a screen).

Though unorthodox, this proved to be highly effective.

The Intelligent Man's Guide to: Consumerism (Part 3: Brands and Social Deception)Dichter’s motivational research included in-depth personality analysis, drawing on use of ideas like the Rorschach test. Dichter had a faculty for making his interviewees feel relaxed and playful. This allowed him to go beneath social conditioning and uncover subconscious motivations behind people’s consumer behavior.

A few findings by motivational researchers include:

  • That people liked breakfast cereal because their crunchiness “satisfied an aggressive desire to overcome obstacles.” (said by Edward Bernays).
  • That women bought exotic lingerie not so much to impress men, but more for their own sake, to feel sexier and to get an ego boost.
  • That people drink beer for social reasons (and that was how beer first started becoming advertised in connection with friends, having a good time, and during social occasions).

 The Intelligent Man's Guide to: Consumerism (Part 3: Brands and Social Deception)The ad on the left (portraying beer as food) was done before motivational research uncovered that people bought beer for social reasons.

Before motivational research became established, it had been the norm for companies to assume that they KNEW why consumers bought their products–and they certainly did not want some advertising person, marketer, or psychologist to come in and say:

“Hey, I have this idea: I think people are not buying your products for the practical reasons you THINK they are, but that they are in fact buying your product for a much less flattering reason, namely [. . .]”

To which the old-fashioned company executive would respond:

“Shut up you wacky headshrink. I know EXACTLY what I’m doing. I’ve been in this business for so-and-so many years. Now get out of my office!”

However, when executives saw the increased sales due to insights found by motivational researchers, they came back and solicited their services.


  • That the people who bought cough drops were not “serious people with cough problems”, but people who enjoyed its sweet taste (like kids).
  • That women who bought spices did not use them because they were afraid of making a mistake, and risk embarrassing themselves.
  • That women who bought cake mix felt guilty about using it to bake with because it was too easy, and felt like cheating!

These psychological insights, and many more, led to a series of extremely successful advertising campaigns.

The Intelligent Man's Guide to: Consumerism (Part 3: Brands and Social Deception)

Women felt GUILTY for baking with cake mix because it was too easy. To do away with the guilt, and sell more cake mix, Dichter made them think that creating the cake layer was “merely step number one” and that the REAL challenge was in competing with friends who could bake the prettiest cake, or impress their kids the most.
This  is a Humpty Dumpty cake. It is one of the most advanced cakes out there, consisting of 13 different steps!

Another insight due to motivational research was the use of PET FOOD.

It was found that most people unconsciously projected human qualities onto their pets, and felt GUILTY for feeding them the same food over and over.

A discovery similar to pet food (which also lives on today) was that adults like to view children as "little adults".

A similar discovery to that of pet food (which also lives on today) was that adults like to view children as “little adults”.

Therefore, Dichter advised his pet food clients to create new advertising campaigns and capitalize on this widespread cognitive handicap.

Sales went through the roof.

50+ years later and pet food companies are STILL running that same theme in their ads and TV commercials (to the wrath of Cesar Milan).

So, the purpose of motivational research was to:

  1. Uncover the subconscious driver for purchasing a product;
  2. Find a way to use that in marketing and advertising campaigns and,
  3. Use the right words and images to illustrate this through ads.

And this is still the formula for successful advertising campaigns today.

(This was how Dichter found out that the customers Esso (the gas company in the image on top) were mostly older people who wanted to feel more virile and powerful. That’s why they wanted to “put a tiger in their tank”.)

During the 50s-60s motivational research culminated into ads like these. . .

The Intelligent Man's Guide to: Consumerism (Part 3: Brands and Social Deception)

The Intelligent Man's Guide to: Consumerism (Part 3: Brands and Social Deception)

. . . where the purpose was to find out the consumers’ insecurities, amplify them into DESPERATION, present the product as salvation, and then profit from it.

Consumer culture historian Stuart Ewen summarized the currently held notion of the advertising industry at the time when he said that:

Satisfied customers are not as profitable as discontented ones.

This strategy worked for a while until it became too extreme and advertising got a bad reputation for picking on people. . .

. . . which is the popular opinion about advertising to this day!

The Advent of Brands

Even though Dichter’s motivational research increased consumption levels significantly, it was his idea of BRANDING that has left the biggest impact on modern consumer culture.

Dichter, like Edward Bernays, believed–as Thoreau put it–that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.

Dichter believed that man could quiet this desperation and find salvation through consumption.

Man could perhaps even experience a sense of belonging, and achieve lasting happiness, through consumption of BRAND products:

Modern man buys products for instant gratification. He buys products as a complement to his identity.

–Ernest Dichter

This idea led to a BIG shift away from the “old salesmanship” of selling products based on practical function.

Instead of advertising a car based on its new and improved engine, a car would be advertised as a solution for becoming the person that you ASPIRED to be (self-realization through consumption).

(I’m a cautious person, so I drive a Volvo.)

(I’m a distinguished person, so I drive a Mercedes.)

(I’m new-rich and want to show off, so I drive a Maybach.)

Today, nearly all companies sell products based on desires and aspirations, and this is how it started.

The basic product corresponds to a NEED. . .

. . .The branded product corresponds to a desire, a WISH. . .

. . . The wish lasts for a while, but not too long. It must therefore be maintained, and this is the role of advertising.

–Jean-Noël Kapferer, The Luxury Strategy

The Intelligent Man's Guide to: Consumerism (Part 3: Brands and Social Deception)

“More scientists and educators smoke Kent with micronite filter than any other cigarette!”

It was during this period that CONSUMPTION became equated with EXPRESSION, an idea so deeply ingrained in popular culture today that most don’t even think about it.

You can either study your craft for years, become great at it, and earn the respect of your peers as a result of your dedicated work. Or you can just buy an Armani suit and achieve the same results. . .

. . . that is what the confused consumer believes anyway.

The aspirational brand acts as a psychological shortcut:

“Buy this product and become COOL instantly!”

It is the perfect solution for a society that revels in instant gratification.

The main challenge for guys like Dichter was to find out what “cool” meant for the people who bought his clients’ products.

When he had done that, he could help his clients build a brand around that demographic group’s definition of “cool”, and turn their products into:

  1. A symbol of success (and status);
  2. A way to express their personality (through consumption) and,
  3. A way to feel group belonging.

Brands Are the Most Important Invention of Consumerism

Most people confuse a brand with its symbol.

A brand HAS a symbol–but a brand is more than that.

Brands fulfill a number of functions, three of those functions stand out:

  1. Brands enable classical conditioning.
  2. Brands mimic tribal belonging.
  3. Brands mimic personalities.

#1 Brands enable classical conditioning:

Classical conditioning (A.K.A Pavlovian conditioning) is the basic reason why advertising works. It is the psychological process by which the brain associates one thing with another.

The brand’s symbol acts as the trigger while advertising builds up the positive associations. So that when you see the Apple logo you will think of “rebels” or “innovative”, and experience a pleasurable sensation.

This is why it is a dumb idea for a company to suddenly change its symbol.

This process–known as brand awareness–is extremely important for big companies. But its  monetary value cannot be measured in exact numbers. It is often represented as “goodwill” on a balance sheet.

#2 Brands mimic tribal belonging:

Humans have a genetic drive to achieve high social status, and we will game the system in any way we can to accomplish this.

Especially if we can find an easy shortcut.

We used to live in small tribes. Everyone knew everyone else’s place in the tribe. It was a strictly regulated pecking order-type hierarchy, where your social status–your importance relative to other tribe members--was dictated based on your age, productivity, and usefulness to the tribe.

Social deception was nearly impossible.

You looked and behaved the part of your social status.

If you didn’t, you were quickly put in your place (and often violently).

In recent times when people live in big cities, with lots of people, most people do not know each other. The tribal pecking order has gotten displaced and a confusion about social status and rank has arisen.

…what has not disappeared, on the other hand, is humankind’s need for some form of social stratification, which is vital; without it, a person, a social being by nature, is unable to escape social chaos and imitative disorder born of undifferentiation. We need to know our place in society.

–Jean-Noël Kapferer, The Luxury Strategy

Social deception is now easy thanks to the consumption of brand products, which give the IMPRESSION that you  belong to a “cool” tribe, or that you’re higher up in the social hierarchy than you really are.

The brand is used as social camouflage.

Instead of working hard and joining the actual upper class, why don’t you just buy some Ralph Lauren clothing and a designer watch?

This is aspirational branding.

#3 Brands mimic personalities:

If you’ve ever wondered how there can be room for a bunch of different companies in what appears to be an industry of commoditized products, wonder no longer.

There isn’t any significant difference between the various brands of whiskey, or cigarettes or beer. They are all about the same. And so are the cake mixes and the detergents, and the margarines… The manufacturer who dedicates his advertising to building the most sharply defined personality for his brand will get the largest share of the market at the highest profit.

–David Ogilvy

However, it is rare that a company manages to build such a “sharply defined personality” for its brand that it achieves monopoly (thanks to branding alone). Different brands appeal to different personality types.

You buy a product. You form a relationship with a brand. Most people do this without noticing it.

Before the innovation of branding had become common practice–when “old salesmanship” was the prevalent advertising strategy–the business world was more brutal and cut-throat, because. . .

They competed based on size and scale instead of target demographics.

Instead of trying to find out what people thought was “cool”, and building a brand around that, they just bombarded the consumers with messages to “buy our product because it’s the best”.

So in one way, branding has actually had a positive impact for consumers (by giving them more variety). On the other hand you can also rationalize this as a bad thing because of the paradox of choice (more choices can lead to unhappiness).

The Intelligent Man's Guide to: Consumerism (Part 3: Brands and Social Deception)The brands that do best are often those that manage to mimic a human personality. If they do that they are more easily remembered by the human brain, and classical conditioning works better. Lots of people over the years have believed Betty Crocker to be a real person.

Preferably the (human) brand personality should appear familiar. For our brains have not evolved to empathize with, or compare ourselves to, people who are different from us.

Brands, and their personalities, are becoming increasingly important for businesses. Because without one it becomes hard to counteract people’s ever-shortening attention spans.

More on that, and about the negative aspects of branding, in part 4 (the last article in this series on consumerism).

Until next time,


Click here to read part 1.

Click here to read part 2.

Click here to read part 4.

Photo credit: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6


  1. THIS: ..

    “there is a BIG difference between what people SAY and actually DO.”

    Don’t I know it. This was one of the most important lessons I learned last year, dealing with clients and customers. The vast majority of us make purchasing decisions based on emotions, like trust, optimism, narcissism or a feeling of being “left behind”/abandoned.

    Nice to see the science behind this phenomenon…and you’ve curated it brilliantly.

    Thanks Ludvig.

  2. Cool stuff! Margarines… yes, I think like all mass products are just that.

    We had a great laughter with my wife about the ad with women in bikinis.

    “Negative aspects of branding?!?!” I’m shocked! Isn’t it all sugar and honey????
    Cant wait for that.

  3. This shit is profound thanks for telling. Ill be honest tho…….

    Reading this has made me sick to my stomach to realise that I am really under the spell of brands, always have been! Time to rethink things..

  4. Indeed, that’s how they like it. A world of liberal multiculturalism creates a world of interchangeable easily displaceable wage slaves and uniform consumers devoid of any counter programming like nationalism, religion, heritage or culture. You might want to check out “Babel Inc. Multiculturalism, Globalisation, and the New World Order” by Kerry Bolton, its a great read.

    • Hrostiski says

      Thanks for book tip Rev, seems cool.

      Ludvig btw your right when you say that there is A big difference between what people say and do -maybe that could be a future article. Heres an example, when people say they’ll do something, but don’t do it. Or when people are jealous of others and say that they COULD do the same achievements but dont… Or maybe that is not the same thing. Hmm anyway would be a cool article.

  5. Phenomenal series!! A must read for any young deprogramming man.

    Buying a product has become buying a piece of self esteem. This is why consumer individualism is promoted so heavily as it creates a limitless amount of products for a limitless amount of product-defined tribes. Through IMF enforced liberal democracy and multiculturalism this system is being exported worldwide with the aim of making the world safe for McDonald’s and Coca Cola. Most countries are not powerful enough to stop the onslaught of American culture warfare even if they wanted to without resorting ISIS-like strongarm tactics and reinsituting repressive fear- based religions.

    • Thanks.

      “Through IMF enforced liberal democracy and multiculturalism this system is being exported worldwide with the aim of making the world safe for McDonald’s and Coca Cola”

      — Haven’t heard this explanation before.

  6. Wow!

    I read all three parts of your series on consumption and it was really mind-opening. I knew about the content in the first two parts about creating habits, traditions and progressive obsolescence since before, but I was mindblown when I read the third part. I always thought that expression in the form of wearing clothes was a self-created phenomenon but now I know that the brands are a part of it.

    I have a question though. Did you write the series to create awareness about the tricks the advertising companies against us in order for us to be more cautious next time we’re buying somethng or are you going to write a better way to approach this? Like what is a better alternative?

    • L,

      To answer your question:
      Yes. So that you’re mindful of the widespread impact that business (including advertising, marketing, and PR) has on culture, and of the immediate impact that it may have in your daily life.

      “or are you going to write a better way to approach this? ”

      –The next article should cover this to some extent. But it is no small task; I’m not saying I have a better (utopian) system to put in place, and I’m not complaining that the world ‘shouldn’t’ work like this. It does work like this, and it is what is.

      And a more personal answer:

      Another reason I wrote this article series–which might be seen as informative and dull (some like it, others don’t)–is because I want to make a couple of points and be able to refer back to them later. Some of these ideas tie in with future articles I’ve got planned for SGM. In other words, those future articles may be misunderstood if people don’t understand some of these things.

      • Thanks for replying! This is something I will have to think about more. Currently I’m working on creating my system/roadmap and I’m trying to fit these little details in.

  7. Well….I used to want a Tiger in my cereal till you came along with your self-development and your “breakfast is bad”.

    Ludvig Sunstrom – Taking good things away from people since 2012

  8. An excellent article, Ludvig. Comments:

    1. I thought candy went by the registers at stores (along with the gift cards and tabloids) because it’s an impulse-buy item.

    2. Frugality was not an economic issue in the wake of WWII. In fact there was a surge of inflation as consumer spending exploded and the factories were still being retooled for consumer goods.

    3. The tendency of people to say insincere things in public and quasi-public (like polls) is well known. It’s why polls intended to forecast election results don’t ask people “are you going to vote in this election?”; they ask, “did you vote in the last election?” – it’s a much better predictor of whether they will actually vote or not. Oddly, some very serious medical research has been predicated on the assumption that patients are always totally forthcoming about sensitive things like sexual habits and illegal drug use.

    4. I know women who have bought spices and don’t use them because they “don’t know how”. I have a simple method: if it smells right, it goes in the food. I’m a good consumer of spices.

    5. I’ve read that the reason cake mixes require the cook to add eggs (instead of including powdered eggs in the mix) is to make the cooking experience more participatory. I have a strong suspicion that this is also why most consumer goods are sold incompletely assembled or otherwise requiring effort by the consumer before use – even if it’s spending twenty minutes hacking open an indestructible blister pack guarding a two dollar item. It establishes a sense of investment in the product that merely spending money cannot.

    6. One would think that, having been children themselves, adults would know better than to think of children as adults, but most don’t. It’s hilarious how many parents try to reason with six year old kids.

    7. Esso was a brand of gasoline, not a car maker.

    8. I’m surprised you didn’t mention Dunbar’s Number in regard to branding.

    9. The marketing of products whose function is to establish or reinforce an artificial identity is now a major part both of our economy and our culture. People actually expect each other to adopt identities which have been furnished by advertising or entertainment, and become confused when they meet someone with a “homegrown” identity. Another aspect of this is that it determines what people see as important in others. They are, for instance, trained to think that a person’s musical taste, favorite TV show, political party, or even their brand of phone, is an important attribute of that person.

    10. Why do you think attention spans are getting shorter? A theory I once heard is that it’s conditioned by television – i.e., by the length of the fragments of “show” between commercial “breaks”. Are Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter responding to this trend, or are they driving it?

    • Thanks for clearing that up regarding Esso.

      Comments on your thoughts:

      1. That’s also correct. But, to my knowledge, this is how it first became mainstream practice. All stores don’t do it though. Especially not the big ones with hundreds of candy.

      2. That may be true (at least in certain industries). But it’s not what I read.

      3. Haha. Regarding the medical research — well, they need to base their case studies on something, right? At least then they can say it’s “backed by studies”.

      4. This was a serious problem in 40s-50s from what I gather. But with ‘education’ (informative advertising) they taught consumers how to use spices (you can still see this sort of informing in food retail store magazines, you know, the free ones they send out to their customers with recipes and all that).

      5. That may or may not be true. It is a popular story (one that is conducive to spreading). You will probably find this article interesting:

      8. I will in the next part (and I did it indirectly in this one).

      “People actually expect each other to adopt identities which have been furnished by advertising or entertainment, and become confused when they meet someone with a “homegrown” identity. ”

      –Yes. What’s WRONG with you? Why are you not playing by the rules of the social script?

      “They are, for instance, trained to think that a person’s musical taste, favorite TV show, political party, or even their brand of phone, is an important attribute of that person.”

      — I get what you’re saying, but I think this is more prevalent in the U.S than in Sweden/Europe.

      10. I don’t really know, but I want to find out. I foresee a bleak future.

      I believe it is a really intricate lollapalooza effect at work (lots of different forces acting together to produce a critical mass effect). A negative one in this case. This is hopefully something BOOH will give a good answer to.

      I think some BIG factors are:
      – The system (society as a whole — incentivizing clickbait & magic pills)
      – Undertrained brains and no daily practice to improve concentration (weak PFC combined with messed up a reward system)
      – Lacking a mission/purpose (why concentrate if there is no goal?)
      – People’s inability to avoid “hoarding mode” (and ignorance of its existence)
      – Overuse of cell phones and social media (and the fact that it has become socially acceptable behavior!)

      And some SECONDARY factors:
      – Poor nutrition (sugar, snacking, junk food)
      – Lack of mindfulness (modern culture provides little opportunity for deep thinking)
      – Escapism and the strong stimulatory and entertaining effect of TV / video and other passive forms of dumbed-down consumption of information. (you know you shouldn’t do it, but it’s so fun)

      This produces a highly potent negative feedback loop that is difficult to break out of (as I can attest from my own experience). This feedback loop poses 3 elements of difficulty:
      1. Low concentration and weak willpower
      2. Addiction (and low dopamine levels)
      3. Various psychological factors (E.G fear of missing out on A) what everyone else is doing and B) fun and entertainment)

      All in all, the big problem is that current (and future) children are forming the wrong (mental) habits at an early age, and it’ll be very tough for them to rid themselves of. They’re playing with smart phones and things like that from age 3-5 nowadays. I wonder how many books will be read (or any other serious in-depth studying/learning for that matter) by the average person in 10-20 years?

      “Are Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter responding to this trend, or are they driving it?”

      –I think both. If you are targeting mainstream you have to conform to this (as nearly all online media businesses are). Study any popular YouTube channel and you’ll find that they change the frame every few seconds, or use extreme shock-and-awe. PewDiePie is the worst example (but he’s just one of many).

      It may have started as a case of Tyranny of small decisions that spiraled out of control.

      Great insights as usual Abgrund. I am surprised by how much you know about advertising, marketing, consumerism, etc.

      • Thanks Ludvig. Most of what I know about marketing, etc. comes from observation. I doubt I’ve read twenty books on marketing in my whole life.

        2. I don’t know what you read, but it was incorrect. The post-WWII economic situation in the U.S. was the exact opposite of what you describe, and this is well known. Consult for example “An Economic History of the United States”, Fite and Reese (my edition is the 1973). The problem after WWII was a shortage of goods and an excess of consumer demand. Consumption spending rose steadily until about 1950, in spite of rising unemployment and declining incomes. Most economists believe that the increase was due to the frustration of consumers after years of effectively forced saving, and the corresponding availability of funds. That is, people were spending their savings.

        3. In this regard, here is something I discovered about fifteen years ago when I did some extensive research on AIDS: there does not appear to have ever been a confirmed case of heterosexual transmission of HIV (I could not find one, and I spent hundreds of hours looking). All of the claims of heterosexual transmission were based entirely on the (unverified) statements of patients about other possible vectors (homosexual sex, intravenous drug use).

        9. You may be right that U.S. culture is more conformist than most European culture. At any rate, that is what I have always heard.

        10. You may also be right about the feedback cycle that is reducing attention spans, but I doubt that it was the result of small decisions. More likely it was the result of television (and perhaps radio).

      • ” but I doubt that it was the result of small decisions. ”

        –No I don’t mean ‘small decisions’ per se, if that’s what you are referring to. I meant that the feedback loop MAY have happened through a process similar to The Tyranny of Small Decisions.

        ” More likely it was the result of television (and perhaps radio)”

        –That seems likely. It definitely played a big role.

  9. I did not know branding was so intricate and psychological.

    What you say about pet food is so true!

    Btw that humpty dumpty cake is adorable :) I wish I could make one!

    • “Positioning” (Al Ries and Jack Trout) is a short and very readable book on branding.

      Make that Humpty cake? Why? Is it better than anything you could think of on your own? Your comment made me think of how much our society has eroded creativity by diverting arts, crafts, and toys into the sort of “paint by numbers” things that used to be reserved for the “rehabilitation” of the retarded. Instead of using their own imagination, all one has to do is to mechanically follow the prescribed steps to reproduce someone else’s mass-marketed creation. When I was a child, Legos consisted of nothing but blocks in a few basic shapes and colors. If you wanted to build a spaceship, you had to figure out for yourself what a Lego spaceship looked like. Now Legos are sold in sets with custom pieces made to assemble pre-determined objects; instead of making your own spaceship you badger mommy until she buys you a set equipped with a replica of a spaceship from some TV show. All you do is plug the pieces together to match the picture. No wonder kids like to break their fucking toys.

    • Abgrund,
      C’mon man, she just likes making that cake. Arts are a matter of personal interest You follow what you’re interested in. People always make out that this and that are what art/music should and shouldn’t but it’s bollocks. Beatles would have been noise in 1850, Basquiat would have been a drooler in the 1800s. You do what seems interesting and creative to you. The pleasure is in the process not in the recipient’s opinion of the work of “art”

      • Shaun, the difference I believe Abgrund was trying to discern was “that” cake is someone else’s work, and although looks great, is but their interpretation of what they wanted to make.

        Modern society, devoid of the ingrained desire to understand & assimilate new things will see this cake and “want” it; of course its creation being provided for an “affordable” price. The important thing to note is that if you wanted to make cakes, and this cake inspired you, you could work out how to do it on your own whilst playing with the cake mix offered by the company.

        … But most people don’t want to spend the time to do that…

        They want the shortcut, the “hidden secret” to making such a “beautiful” (successful) cake. And because they spend their life working in some shitty job they hate to earn the much-vaunted money, they feel its imagined power extends into the products they buy (magic pill). Hence they feel an “investment” into the paint-by-numbers cake mix on offer will provide them with exactly that cake, no risk.

        The problem Abgrund was highlighting, therefore, was not a devolution of imagination, but an unwillingness to put in the time to actually understand… learn… about how those types of cakes are made, so – maybe – you’d be able to make one similar.

        “Investing time” not an idea so attractive to the single mother who has 3 screaming kids demanding KFC and video games, right? (not Jen, just as an example)

        And in a land where everyone has to be making money to “pay the bills”, why would you want to waste weeks learning the art of sugarcraft in order to make a crappy Humpty Dumpty cake when someone else can do all that for you?

        Hope that gives some more perspective

      • I wasn’t trying to pick on Jen; I know nothing about her cake skills or her cake motives. I was, however, talking about devolution of the imagination.

        Following a pattern to produce a pre-designed output envisioned by someone else is somewhat like buying and wearing an expensive suit in order to feel and appear successful. That is, what the consumer/fabricator gets is the feeling and appearance of being creative. Else, why not just buy the item already complete? It’s less work and often cheaper than buying the “kit”.

        The consumer in this case is, as Richard notes, being spared some or all of the difficult and time consuming process of acquiring skill. She or he is also being spared the necessity of exercising the imagination to conceive something new. It’s like being a cover band, or an artist who only paints reproductions – an effective way to build basic skill, but hardly a way to become a great musician or a great artist, and it seems like it would be unsatisfying in the long run.

      • I understand your point. I just think it’s harmless. It’s not the same as expensive suits, as that cake costs nothing and it’s “just a bit of fun”.

  10. Nice article. I’m waiting for the last in the series.

  11. Amazingly intricate & well-researched post Ludvig!

    I have one gripe though – not with you; with enterprise as you’ve painted it. That being it seems highly manipulative.

    Maybe in the 40’s / 50’s, when “making a living” was less sinister (more innocent) was it okay, but now we have a proliferation of this bullshit throughout society, leading to many “modern” issues (major of which being a lack of societal identity).

    I feel that although we live in an age where we can buy things which just 20/30 years ago would have been the tip of exotica, our societal makeup is being severely affected. This has its roots in this undercurrent of mental manipulation, which the majority of people fall for (who doesn’t want to “get rich quick” “100% guaranteed” “no risk” if you’ve never been exposed to the reality before).

    In short, everyone is running around trying to sell shit to someone; not contemplating the expertise required to create it.

    My questions are thus:

    1) Do you think there is an obligation for new generation enterprise to represent reality? IE not to be manipulative and do some work?

    2) It’s my opinion that REAL brands represent REAL improvements for people’s lives. They LIVE the way that people desire to exist (Virgin being an example). I feel these brands take the longest to be established, but provide the most robust results for people. Do you feel “manipulative” brands (IE companies created with the SOLE purpose of extracting money) have a short shelf life?

    3) In terms of making a living (which is what enterprise is anyway), do you feel that branding is about labelling the craftsmanship of someone’s work, or inducing brain-dead masses to buy the latest fad?

    • “In short, everyone is running around trying to sell shit to someone; not contemplating the expertise required to create it.”

      –Indeed. Where has the craftsmanship gone? Why can Apple charge such a high price for their stuff? Because they’ve built up the perception that they’re craftsmen.

      Your questions…

      An obligation? No. Take a look around (especially on the Internet) and you’ll find that there is a trend of laziness (albeit covered up by flashy design).
      Would I prefer it to be different? Yes.
      Maybe it will change over the long-term, but I don’t think it’ll happen anytime soon.

      Yes, absolutely. Their very nature is trend-based. Unless, of course, they use the money made from that trend to build something more substantial.

      If you want my personal opinion I don’t think it’s either of those alternatives; I think branding is (and should be) about solving or alleviating some type of primal/psychological need. The tribal belonging and social stratification is an example of that, but I think fashion and clothing companies take it too far. Or maybe they don’t, maybe it’s the hordes of confused consumers who do. Or maybe it is a combinatorial feedback loop between the two (most likely). In either case, the result is the same: a society full of confused consumers living fake lives, deprived of intellectual ability and personal expression, using consumption, brand products and Facebook as their main way of expressing themselves.

    • Richard, do you think that “new generation enterprise” can produce things that will actually improve life in some worthwhile way that isn’t already being done, and at the same time make a profit?

  12. What are / were some other discoveries by motivational research other than cake mix, spices and beer?

    Reading about that stuff makes me wonder how many more such opportunities there are in the business world right now.

    • Here are some more:

      – Soap was sold not for its functional use of cleaning oneself. But because it symbolically washed away the “sins” of sex or other guilty pleasures.

      – Pain relievers were found to be bought mainly by hypochondriacs.

      – It was found that one of the main lures of smoking was that it satisfied people who had an oral fixation (I think Bernays said it).

      – One of the strangest findings–(which I don’t believe)–was that men feared flying not only because the plane might crash. But because they feared “sexual relations with strange women.”

      • Funny with soap. It makes sense when you think about it!

      • I don’t believe that about fear of flying either. Approximately 100% of advertising targeted at men assumes that men are attracted by the idea of sex with new women. Back in the Seventies, some airline ads were little short of openly offering the sexual services of the stewardesses. Fear of flying, my ass.

      • Thanks, that’s pretty cool actually.

        I agree with you & Abgrund, it seems strange as I don’t know what if men were afraid of women on planes…I mean, who hasn’t fantasized about joining the mile hhigh club? Hehe.. it is probably not as cool as it seems, but it would be a fun thing on the bucket list, so to speak!

        Sorry for the slow reply. I’d hate to keep the mighty Ludvig waiting ;)

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