An article on the Psychology Today website sent me down memory lane recently, prompting me to revisit an interview I conducted with Ernest Dichter in 1989 for an early Trade Talk column, less than a year after starting here at Quirk’s. 

The April 2022 Psychology Today article, “How Ernest Dichter brought psychology to business” by Lawrence R. Samuel, gives a brief but informative overview of the impact that Dichter’s focus on consumers’ underlying motivations had on advertising in the 1940s and beyond. Some credit him with coining the term “focus group” and there is debate as to whether he created the concept of motivational research or if his lifelong championing of the ideas behind it just made it seem that way. Nevertheless, the explorations of the deep-seated factors driving our decision-making as consumers he conducted for clients like Ivory Soap and Chrysler certainly changed the face of advertising.

As Samuel writes in his article, “Anyone working in fields in which psychology intersects with business – marketing, marketing research or advertising – should be familiar with Ernest Dichter. Before Dichter, what Franz Kreuzer and Patrick Schierholz called ‘announcement advertising’ was the norm, with factual argument the prevailing method by which to promote products. Dichter turned ad agencies into psychology labs, bringing the social sciences into what were basically factories of communication. With his depth interviews, Dichter was the first person to seriously challenge the Claude Hopkins school of ‘reason-why’ copy, which had dominated advertising since it was recognized as a legitimate field. ‘His research provided advertising with a kind of radar to find its way through the darkness of the collective subconscious,’ wrote Marcel Blenstein-Blanchet, founder of the ad agency Publicis.”

Dichter was in his early 80s when I interviewed him, just a few years before his death in 1991, and looking...