Real Men Don’t Eat Chicken

Here’s a review of The Persuaders in the Daily Mail:  ‘Real Men Don’t Eat Chicken’.  The headline is a reference to a part of the book that takes up the changes the ‘depth probers’ made to the thinking behind advertising in the 1950s.  One of the most famous researchers was Ernest Dichter, who conducted thousands of in-depth studies of our attitudes towards everything from cheese to cars.  Here’s Dichter on form, sharing the fruits of his studies, a few lines from The Persuaders:

Butter represents plenty, and it must be rich and golden. A strange sense of mystery cloaks cheese – the subtle appreciation of cheese is on a par with the appreciation of art. Chicken is much less masculine than steak – the expression ‘chickening out’ is symbolic of this fact. Citrus fruits have always been symbols of abundance in a variety of cultures, their roundness and warm colours suggestive of the life-giving Sun. Cookies are feminine and must always be displayed in large quantities. As Carl Jung observed, the Phoenician goddess of fertility was called Ichthys, which means Fish, and for many people, not just Catholics, eating fish still has hidden religious connotations. Messiness and childishness are among the many psychological obstacles confronting jams and jellies. The act of cutting meat and tearing it with our teeth is more important to us than the meat’s meatiness. Prunes are entirely without prestige, like desiccated spinsters, and they call to mind immediately and unfortunately their use as a laxative. Raisins, however, represent a return to nature. Rice suggests a strong, young fertile woman, particularly because it expands while cooking, and this partly explains why we fling it joyfully at newlyweds. Soup is thought to be endowed with magic, rejuvenating power. Spaghetti suggests family fun – but not canned spaghetti, which is associated with indignity in the minds of the upwardly mobile.

You might think all this is ridiculous, but it changed the way products are presented to us, and you encounter footnotes to this kind of thing every time you walk into a shop or see an ad.


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