Ernest Dichter on Command and Persuasion

A  refugee from Vienna who settled in Croton-on-Hudson, Ernest Dichter was one of the first people to study consumer behavior in the marketplace. He invented the focus group and purportedly told Mattel to give Barbie breasts. The Naval War College asked him to study the problem of command versus persuasion. He outlined the results in his 1960 book The Strategy of Desire

“Recently persuasion was practiced with drivers in New Jersey by painting yellow stripes on sections of the roads aimed at slowing drivers at toll-booth approaches. The yellow stripes, which can been seen easily at night and in foggy weather, are arranged to give the effect of closing in on a driver. They are intended to help alert motorists who are going too fast as they near a toll stop. The stripes, painted progressively closer at toll approaches, give the impression that a vehicle is accelerating if the driver fails to slow down. Command is always faster as a method of persuasion, it is more efficient; and what makes it really dangerous is that it often is much more comfortable. Many young democracies have faltered because people prefer to be told what to do rather than to make up their own minds. Persuasion, on the other hand, is slower, more burdensome, but at the same time also more permanent and healthier. Lowering of prices, special sales, etc. in the merchandising field correspond to command. Building of the personality of a company, the creation of brand loyalty, are closer to real persuasion and are much slower but at the same time also much more permanent.”

Ernest Dichter, The Strategy of Desire, Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1960.

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