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Dr. Freud’s Take on Marketing and the Real Estate Consumer

Using motivation marketing in your real estate business, Freud style. Good sense or nonsense?

Using motivation marketing in your real estate business, Freud style. Good sense or nonsense?

Sigmund_Freud_LIFESome of you may know, but for those who don’t, I study history.  Graduate-level Trans-Atlantic History of business and technology to be exact.  My undergraduate, long long ago, was international marketing, so when I decided to go the humanities route in graduate school, business and technology seem to be a good transition from my previous academic and real life careers to my new history pursuits.  “So, what’s in it for me?” you ask? Good question!
My current research is on an Austrian Psychologist, Dr. Ernest Dichter, who is considered to be the father of motivational research.  Dichter knew Freud in Europe and when he came to the US just prior to WW II, he brought with him Freud’s psychoanalytical approach and applied it to business.  Dichter is credited as being the mac-daddy pioneer of applying Freud’s theories to marketing and business.

In a nutshell, he took marketing from describing a product in its most transparent and practical way to evoking a primal need or desire, ala Freud. No longer did you market soup by saying “oh, it tastes great and has lots of vitamins”.  The new approach would be to sell soup so that it would take you back to sitting with mom in the kitchen as she cooked fresh soup on the stove, filling the home with luscious smells (I’ll leave out the mom-Freud thing for our discussion here).

Dichter’s career was prodigious both here and in Europe.  He created the phrase “Put a Tiger in the Tank” for Exxon, consulted on the original Barbie and literally 1,000s and 1,000s of other household products.  Seeing the Freud in Exxon’s slogan and Barbie is not a far stretch, nor in all the rest of Dichter’s work.

Mouth watering steak by Busy BrainHow then, would Dichter advise us to market real estate or real estate services?  He’d have us reach the deepest bottoms of our target clientele’s psyche.  Do they want to buy a 3 bedroom 2 bath house on Main Street or are they looking for something deeper?  Security? Prestige? Sex? What is it?  Here in Miami, the advertising firms for condos have motivational marketing down pat.  You don’t see much, if anything, of the actual condos on the billboards.  You see beautiful models at the spa, doing yoga, on the beach in the most stylish of teeny garments.  They are selling the DREAM, not the condo.  And it WORKS!  The sizzle, not the steak.

The next copy you write for a listing, or to reach your sellers, keep Dr. Freud and Dichter’s theories in mind.  Reach the client where they feel it, instinctively.  Not in their head, you can’t win much in the real estate game with just numbers and facts.  You have to evoke a compelling, irresistible offer that fulfills their innermost yearnings….

When I bought my first house in Coral Gables, the Realtor was offering a set of note cards with a hand-drawn rendering of the historic home on the front.  This SOLD me!  I was now going to live in a home that had such history that there were hand-drawn note cards!  It reached a deeper level in me than just being a beautiful home (which it is).  What is your client’s hand-drawn note card?  What do they seek or desire more than just a dwelling?  Figure that out and you’ll know a whole lot more about what they REALLY want!

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Freud, magician, madman or genius?  What say you?

steak thanks to TheBusyBrain.  I apologize now to any vegetarians and vegans!

Written By

Janie has been in the development, construction and real estate industries for over 20 years. She began her career in commerical construction and has slowly worked into all of the related industries and added residential properties to her resume 7 years ago. She is currently the co-owner of sister companies, Papillon Real Estate and Papillon ReDevelopment (a construction and project management firm). Janie blogs for The Coral Gables Story. In her "free" time, she is a graduate student of Atlantic History with a focus on the history of business and technology. She is a lover of geo-anything. She loves the story.



  1. Ken Montville

    December 30, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    I was actually reading about our dear Dr. Dichter in another book – Shoptimism: Why the American Consumer Will Keep Buying No Matter What, by Lee Eisenberg – and it seems that, in addition to his many contributions to marketing, he suffered from what we might call “Tiger Woods Syndrome”, if you get my drift.

    I also understand he had a tendency to assign feminine and masculine characteristics to products that would cause a mass demonstration in today’s world. Nevertheless, I’ve always heard that people buy on emotion and justify with logic. It makes perfect sense to appeal to whatever yearning the home buyer may have to help them along with making a good choice. After all, if some deep emotional need is addressed by massaging the marketing, is that such a bad thing?

    Now, about my mother…..

  2. Janie Coffey

    December 30, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Ken, I didn’t know about Shoptimism, I will have to look it up for sure. He definitely applied characteristics to products which make me scratch my head and ask, huh? I have 6 months of heavy study ahead of me, my journey is just beginning…. BUT, you are right, there is quite a pull on the emotion, either conscious or subconscious when we buy. I mean, does a Louis Vittoun bag hold my stuff any better than a nice one from Sears? No, not really, but something (not logic) sure makes me want it….I will keep you posted on my more in depth findings….

  3. Bob Gibbs

    December 30, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Great article. I try to make my ads appealing but I will rethink what I am doing a bit. Thank you for the Advice!

  4. Tim O'Keefe Real Estate SEO

    December 30, 2009 at 11:18 pm

    This study would be remiss without a look into Freud’s nephew Edward L. Bernays. The father of public relations and propaganda. It is Bernays who really influenced much of our present day commercialism and Statism than any other individual.
    he made Steak and Eggs perceived as a hearty breakfast by conducting a survey of physicians and reported their recommendation that people eat heavy breakfasts. He sent the results of the survey to 5,000 physicians, along with publicity touting bacon and eggs as a heavy breakfast.

  5. Janie Coffey

    December 31, 2009 at 7:06 am


    You sure know your stuff! Bernays is definitely on my research radar. If fact, I mentioned what seemed to be an absence of more writing on him and the similarities to Dichter in my research proposal. It seems that where Dichter went more in the direction of marketing product, Bernays went to PR. I believe it was Bernays who actually got women to start smoking cigarettes for the tobacco industry by having a hoard of debutantes smoke at a parade where the press covered it!

    Very interesting stuff to say the least.

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