If the Id, Ego and Superego come into play in every aspect of our lives, there is every reason to believe that they should influence our behavior as consumers as well!

Conventional psychoanalysis states that we suppress the impulses of the Id to conform to the demands of the society (the Superego). Our behavior as consumers follows more or less the same pattern.

We might want to sing out loud in the street (satisfy the Id), but convention (the Superego) dictates that we behave correctly. Speeding down the road (Id satisfaction) but having to respect speed limits (the control of the societal Superego) is more or less the same.

We might want to live off a diet of chocolate, but we also have doctor’s orders. Chocolates are not likely to take precedence on our shopping list, and supermarkets will not place them, either, so that they take precedence over our staples.

Society wants us to dress according to occasion and convention; we buy our clothes depending on whether they are for work or leisure.

The list of controls (Superego) and the list of desires (the demands of the Id) can be built endlessly, but what we will always find is that as consumers our choices are limited by our willingness to conform or not – ergo, the Id and the Superego determine to what extent we will make our choices, with the rational Ego being the faculty that helps us make a decision towards one extreme or another.

But what products are more likely to belong to which category? This, we shall see, is not difficult to define!


(The reconciliation of the impulses of the Id with the demands of the Superego (the two extremes of desire, and often in conflict with each other), is the basis of all individual behaviour. There is no reason to believe that this should not also hold true for all “purchase behaviour”.)

Imagine a baby, the mother and their pet dog in a room. The child is tempted to play with the animal the way a baby would – tugging at its ears, tail, or fur. While the animal may be a part of the family, and even pacific by nature, the mother may intervene and prevent the child from being too harsh with the pet, for fear of the animal reacting.

            Here, the child represents the Id in its purest form. All humans are born as bundles of Id, unconcerned with anything except personal gratification. This bundle of Id doesn’t know, even, the difference of good and bad – it will revel in its own excreta – there is absolute absence of any form of reason.

            This individuality of the baby (Id) is sharply contrasted by the demands of the mother, the control imposed on the self-gratifying child. She represents the Superego, or the norms of society, created by experience collected over time.

            Let us assume that the child eventually does get bitten by the dog. Now even the baby knows, vis-à-vis the dog, what his actions can lead to. In the future, it will approach the dog with more than caution. The baby has learnt to reason, and this reasoning, between the two extremes of the self-seeking id and the imposed superego, is the ego, the rational aspect of the reasoning mind. It represents the individual’s logical functions, which allow for independence from the demands of both the id and the superego.

            These three aspects of the human psyche exist in each individual for all time to come, albeit with variations which can be linked to the nature of the society, culture, family and personal experiences and/or preferences. And these three aspects are the ones that influence all our decisions, including those linked to purchase of products or services.

            Once again, we can reiterate our hypothesis if human behavioris subject to the pressures of the Id, Ego and Super Ego, then these three ego states should influence our purchase behavior as well. Let us now see how these three aspects can be related to the process of marketing and advertising.

Ever since advertising and marketing became “scientific”, consumer profiling has been done in many forms, with the eventual purpose of understanding the buyer’s motivations.

But while most methodologies for consumer analysis are based on sociological studies, with an aim to predict consumer behavior, we might be better off if consumer analysis be done on the basis of those tenets by which all human motivation is studied, given that these tenets should hold true even for the “motivation to purchase”.

Let us, then, see what might emerge if marketing terminologies were taken from the field of psychology, and if there emerges a different way to connect with the consumer.


For empirical reasons, let us choose only the Id, the Ego and the Super-Ego, as defined by Sigmund Freud, as the basis of this new method of consumer analysis.

If three ego states are at the base of all human motivation (there being no fourth), then we can state that:

  1. All products and services are essentially Id-, Ego- and/or Super Ego Satisfiers, and
  2. Within any product category, there can be only three kinds of products, viz., Id-, Ego- and/or Super Ego Satisfiers.

Even answering the most basic question in marketing – defining our product and its benefits – involves a certain definition of the user: “Who am I talking to?”

Ever since advertising became more “scientific”, marketing men have used demographic or psychographic profiles to understand consumer behaviour.

While the former differentiates consumers on the basis of their purchasing power, the latter helps, presumably, create products and advertising that the so-called clearly defined segments (yuppies/dinks/baby-boomers/etc.) would buy into.

This was all very well so long as we were living in homogenous societies, with limited media, few product choices, and the recession was something that happened in the US in the 1920s.

Yet this methodology always had its problems.

Demographic profiling, as we have seen, does not guarantee any correlation with purchase intention – the rich are not always the biggest spenders.

Psychographic profiles change with time, and cease to exist once we cross geographic boundaries. Yuppies might become dinks or baby-boomers faster than you can design products for them, or an economic trend could finish their creed overnight. Their ilk is not likely to be found in other parts of the world – well-off young Indians have very different consumption habits compared to their European counterparts, and both are very different from their US equivalents.

In all, there exist fundamental issues: There is no way to quantify any of the numbers – not the spenders in any given profile of consumers; nor the relationship between them and the quantities sold; nor the value ascribed to products by the users themselves with regard to products targeted to them or to the other options available.

And all of this means that the MNC brand manager has to re-start the learning process every time s/he takes on an overseas assignment – the best s/he brings to the table might simply just be the “best practices” from the parent country.

(Such is the lack of dissociation between products and buyers that even members on the same side of the table may often speak a different language – product designers may speak of 2- or 3-box cars, or roadsters or sedans, while their marketing colleagues may speak of “a car for a yuppie or a dink”.)

What we need therefore are not new definitions of market segments, or consumer profiles, but some way in which we can link products to consumers, and vice versa. Ideally, because we want to create a system that can be used across cultures in today’s globalised economies, these definitions should be universal in application, able to accommodate market changes without changing themselves, and, most importantly, measurable.

What we are looking for, briefly, are common denominators to all mankind, which do not change across cultures.


Mrs Indira Gandhi drank Lipton’s Green Label tea at breakfast and used Lux – the soap – to wash her hands.

Even when this was revealed by a doting press to her doting electorate, there was little about Mrs Gandhi that was not already known – given her illustrious father, even her early life was better chronicled than that of any contemporary leader, and her public standing left little she could hide.

Yet, if she were the target person for any advertising campaign at the time, ad agency planners would have picked up on these new little bits of information and included them as “nuggets” in the brief. These, they’d be sure, would reveal insights about her that simple demographic profiling could not.

Using the systems in vogue at the time (the mid-to-late ’70s), such “insights” would reveal what other things she was most likely to buy. Given that she used top-of-the-line products across two categories, they would have assumed that Mrs Indira Gandhi would also favour the top-of-the-line cars that existed. And given that lesser people drove the best imports of the day, she too would possibly choose a Mercedes Benz, at least.

She didn’t. She drove in a “Made in India” Ambassador, a vehicle that owed its design and technology to the engineering of almost two decades earlier. She gave her reasons: She wanted to show her faith in Indian industry.
So, were the ad agency planners off the mark with their “Values and Lifestyle System” (VALS) for analysing consumers? Did they really have an insight on Mrs Gandhi – the choice of car being a mere aberration?

We still do not know. We do not know whether she drank her brand of tea because it was the best that money could buy, or because she had a delicate constitution. Similar reasoning could be given for her choice of hand soap. Nor did such profiling reveal her opinions about other teas and soaps.

A decade later, the same planners were sure they had another, sure-fire way to profile consumers. Mrs Indira Gandhi could hence be judged on the basis of her “psychographic profile”. Soaps like Lifebuoy could be advertised to her, she being a “single, working-mother of two”; stronger teas could well be positioned to fit in with her having an “active” lifestyle, and better cars for her comfort, given her “CEO” profile.

All in all, it wouldn’t have changed a thing. Her motivations of being a mother did not get her to choose another, “more hygienic” soap; her energetic lifestyle did not change her choice of morning stimulant; and neither did her status make her want a fancier car.

What we can be sure of, however, is that while demographic or psychographic profiling helps us create clusters that look good in boardrooms, they do not guarantee any link between products and users. Stretch the problem into newer markets – as with the process of globalization – and we’re on even thinner ice: we do not know who will choose our product and for what reason.

What we can be sure of is that a new way of looking at consumer and product segmentation is required.

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