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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Putting Sellers on the Couch

The other day the Wall Street Journal had an article with the headline: “Advertisers Put Consumers on the Couch.” It seems that Madison Avenue’s motivational researchers, says the Journal, “increasingly feel they must put consumers on the couch and play shrink.” Penelope Queen, director of research at the giant Saatchi ad agency, was more specific: “We prefer practicing doctors who do true psychoanalysis with patients and really know what makes people tick.” She added that fast-food restaurants meet the human need for immediate oral gratification and are seen by customers “almost as a surrogate mom.”

I think it is time to turn the tables on these seller shrinks and peer into their psyches. Let’s start with the cigarette companies.

What kind of minds would continue to boost and defend a business whose commercial success leads to the death of 320,000 Americans every year? Could these executives be closet sadists? Or drug dealers who have been legitimized by the tax collectors? Is tobacco an immoral equivalent of war which gives them the taste that satisfies?

What about seducing teenagers into smokeless tobacco by using athletics chewing the stuff on television? Have these corporate promoters substituted a suppressed desire to advance oral gratifications by inducing oral cancers? Only placing a statistical sample of six of these executives on the couch will give us an inkling.

The pharmaceutical companies long have wallowed in a deep habit of selling people pills that don’t work. Perhaps, these are repressed thespians with a dramatic desire to put people through costly pantomimes.

The auto companies years ago perfected shock absorbers to cushion the derrieres of their customers from vertical traumas. But only now are they moving to install air bags in cars to save their customers from horizontal traumas — as in a crash. How to examine this bizarre dichotomy? Could a special, distorting type of electro-magnetic field be seizing these Detroit moguls at the time they first become moguls?

Then there are the corporate child molesters. These are the purveyors of television violence and junk food ads. The latter are designed to destabilize the family order by creating nagging urchins pestering their parents for the latest food-candies and Twinkies. Other real meanies are the manufacturers of dangerous toys that burn, maim, kill or strangle the kids in time for Christmas. These child abusers must have some complex flowing out of their earlier years — perhaps a case of the battered child becoming the battering adult.

Freud would have been fascinated with this next institutionalized pain by corporate misbehavior. Shoes for women are largely designed by men in fashion firms. So for years these men have designed fashions such as the stiletto-heel for women to perch upon so that their back, ankles and toes hurt. They also are more likely to trip and fall. Is this Superego or Id? What depths of misogynistic aggression are plumbed here?

What are we to make of the advertisement for a hair restorer which described the product as effective against “the second most common form of baldness?” The message did not say that the first cause is heredity which is responsible for nearly all baldness in men. Could the sellers of his hokum be harboring latent inclinations toward inchoate prevarication born of their immediate postweaning experiences?

Recall all those computer bills you’ve received written in indecipherable abbreviations. The explanation of such occult charges is that they were designed by frustrated dreamers who wanted to decode secret Soviet messages for the CIA.

Oh, there are so many more grists for the psychiatric mills — such as why for half a century General Motors has refused to toilet-train itself by cleaning up its pollution.

You can add many more illustrations of the zany minds of the sellers. But why go on? The point is to sober up your sellers and tell them just to give you the facts — such as the clear price, the warranty (in big print), the durability, the ingredients, the safety performance — and keep the cheap psychological profiles and probes on their dusty shelves for good. Because these cheap marketing tactics are very expensive for consumers and the economy.