Ernest Dichter: A Personal Account

Joseph Plummer

I was very lucky early in my career in advertising to join the Leo Burnett Company in Chicago, Illinois in 1967. Fresh from a PhD in communications from the Ohio State University, I was assigned to the creative research team which included Mary Jane Rawlins, a PhD graduate from Missouri who had studied under Will Stevenson – someone central to my dissertation work using his Q-methodology theory and measurement to segment audiences into “mindsets”; and Clark Leavitt, a PhD graduate in psychology interested in using semantic differential to measure responses to advertising. What a wonderful intellectual buffet to be a part of to start out in advertising.

The role of the creative research unit was to develop new approaches to understanding consumers and to provide useful information to the various creative teams. In many ways this was a predecessor of the idea of planning in advertising agencies.

I was also very lucky to join Leo Burnett agency at this time because Leo Burnett, the founder and creative force behind the agency, was still active. Leo would get involved in certain campaigns more as the final judge than the creator of the ideas. Leo had hired Dr Ernst Dichter as a “consultant” for him to gain unique insights into the psychology of buying. It was Dr Dichter’s speciality to provide provocative deep ideas about people’s motivations for buying everyday products and the symbolism that might be employed.