In this post we explore how the psychology of Carl Gustav Jung and Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis have been used by the marketplace to transform products into magical brands that we subconsciously connect with. For the book Brandpsycho, go here.
Psychoanalysis and especially the ideas of Carl Gustav Jung have increasingly become more relevant to the field of advertising and marketing. Psychoanalytical theories, first introduced in America in 1909 when Freud and Jung spoke at Clark University, have been for the last hundred years became modified to fit the emerging marketplaces and were introduced to America’s corporations and advertising agencies by opportunistic individuals such as Freud’s own nephew, Edward Bernays.
Bernays was to become the founder of what we call today public relations (formerly known as propaganda). In particular, Freud’s discovery of the unconscious opened new territory for marketers and corporations to exploit. The insight that consumer decisions are often made irrationally, driven by unconscious, repressed sexual and emotional instincts, offered companies new opportunities to sell products that were not materially needed, but psychologically wanted.
What Bernays and his fellow marketers did was to introduce eros to the marketplace and to explore a new technique to infuse products with its energy. Products started to transmute into pseudo-symbols when charged with psyche, libido, emotional appeal, and the promise to still the desires constantly stirring within the consumer’s unconscious. Influenced by the insights of psychoanalysis, a new method of marketing was born, one that would reshape the field of advertising and form a psychological framework for the industry that today is referred to as branding.
To understand how the marketplace use psychology to subconsciously connect, order your copy of Brandpsycho - The hidden psychology of brands.
Download the first chapter for free.
Branding—What Is It?
The word brand derives from Old Norse, a Viking language spoken in Scandinavia until the fifteenth century. Brandr meant “to burn” . Later in history, the word came to identify the process of marking cattle, criminals, and slaves using a hot iron, a precursor to the logo. According to marketing guru Seth Godin, a brand is “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another”. In the early and mid-twentieth century, many people thought of the logotype as the brand, what today we think of as only the visible sign, the signifier.
Today a brand is much more—a sort of symbol that carries its own set of intangible elements of contextual values, emotions, aspirations, and projections. Companies today depend on a strong brand personality and sell not only a product, but also what is often referred to as a lifestyle that carries a corporate mythology with which people can identify.
Brands today are more than mirrors for our unspoken, often unconscious, psychological wants and desires. When successfully constructed, they activate what anthropologist Levy Bruhl in his studies of the psychology of “primitive” people referred to as a “participation mystique”: a symbiotic and unconscious identification “where the subject cannot clearly distinguish himself from the object but is bound to it by a direct relationship which amounts to partial identity...an identification with a thing or the idea of a thing”. A psychological symbiotic relationship is formed where part of the consumer’s identity is to be found in the brand and vice versa.
Though not articulated as such, this has led to what I would describe as a renaissance of Carl Gustav Jung’s theories of the collective unconscious and the archetypes within the world of popular culture.Whereas a sign or a logotype is an entity that always signifies another entity, a symbol and a brand is emotionally charged; it leads you to something unknown, and it has the capacity to transform and direct libido. Jung differentiated between the sign that he saw as “a commonly accepted indication of something known” and the symbol as “The best possible expression for something that cannot be expressed otherwise”. The symbol always points to something not fully knowable.
Jung’s view was that psychic energy cannot be destroyed and that the symbol is the transformer of psychic energy: “They are the manifestation and expression of excess libido. Symbols are the great organizers of Libido”. Today, when religions and traditions have lost much of their power and society is no longer “a carrier of religious content, but an economic-political organization”, brands in the marketplace seem to become important organizers of libido. The advertiser’s and marketer’s role is to transmute a client’s product and its logo from a sign to a symbol.
Viewed from this energetic perspective, consumption could be likened to a secular pseudo-religious ritual of sacrifice and gratification. The sacrifice being the psychic energy we invest in a purchase (money and attention) and the gratification, the brand’s promise of fulfillment of an underlying psychological (emotional) desire—a ritual that Jung might have described as magical. “A ceremony is magical so long as it does not result in effective work but preserves the state of expectancy”. Rather than giving back energy to us as consumers, it creates a sort of addiction and desire for more. Performed globally, this ritual seems to function as a sort of underlying psychological engine to drive consumer demand and secure the constant growth that our consumer economy craves.
To understand how the marketplace use psychology to subconsciously connect with us order your copy of Brandpsycho - The hidden psychology of brands.
Download the first chapter for free.