Conceptual illustration representing psychoanalytic theory. The silhoutte of a psychiatrist pulling up the blinds covering the online of a man's head.

The science of marketing developed from other disciplines such as psychology, sociology, social psychology, anthropology and economics. Consumer behavior theories emerged as marketers started applying work to customers’ wants, needs and identities.

Sigmund Freud’s 20th century psychoanalytic theory of personality was a major development in the field of psychology. Let’s examine the theory and its marketing implications.

What is Psychoanalytic Theory?


Psychoanalytic theory separates the human psyche into three forces: id, ego and super ego.

  • Id: The id is responsible for primitive drives and urges. Operating on the pleasure principle, the id avoids tension and seeks pleasure. It is also referred to as the unconscious mind.
  • Ego: Ego is the conscious mind. It operates on the reality principle. The ego develops from the id because there are limitations if the id operates in the real world. The ego is composed of perceptions, thoughts, memories and feelings. It provides a person with a sense of identity and continuity. As an internal drive and conscious, the ego is the executive aspect of personality.
  • Super Ego: Super ego is the moral and ethical dimension of the human psychic structure. It controls the basic desires of the id. The super ego can interrupt the social system and influences the ego. It also helps individuals strive for perfection and pursue goals that match the morality parameters set by society and culture.

Represented in the model are biological forces (id), human consciousness (ego) and societal forces (super ego). These three factors dictate personality development, and they influence human motivation and needs.

Application to Consumer Behavior

The idea that irrational forces drive behavior intrigued Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward L. Bernays. He launched a famous public relations campaign to try to manipulate people’s behavior without them realizing it. One of his efforts focused on getting women to smoke.

Equating smoking with challenging male power was the cornerstone of Lucky Strike’s ‘Torches of Freedom’ campaign, which debuted during New York’s annual Easter Parade on April 1, 1929,” according to the American Psychological Association. “Bernays had procured a list of debutantes from the editor of Vogue magazine and pitched the idea that they could contribute to the expansion of women’s rights by lighting up cigarettes and smoking them in the most public of places—Fifth Avenue. The press was warned beforehand and couldn’t resist the story. The ‘Torches of Freedom Parade’ was covered not only by the local papers, but also by newspapers nationwide and internationally.”

Other marketers have tried to apply the psychoanalytic theory to consumer behavior. A major application is using Freud’s inputs to create brand image. If a brand can appeal to a deep wish, fantasy, aggression or some escape from life, then consumers may equate a brand or specific line of products with a desire.

Who was Sigmund Freud?

Sigmund Freud was a prominent Austrian neurologist, who is known as the founder of psychoanalysis. Current models of psychoanalysis may use different theories and techniques, but they all use Freud’s method of change by having patients talk about their difficulties.

From Freud’s psychoanalytic theory to his study of dreams, his work has made a strong impact on Western thought. It has influenced modern psychology and neurology, as well as philosophy, literature, feminism and other areas.

Applying Consumer Behavior Theories

Consumer behavior is a constantly evolving science. With this knowledge, marketing professionals can be more effective in reaching their audience and bringing value to employers.

Husson University’s fully online BSBA with a marketing concentration helps students gain a strong understanding of consumer behavior, basic marketing principles, applied research, sales, social media, and more. Graduates are prepared for a wide range careers, including market research analysts, brand managers and marketing specialists.