Navigating the Depths: Uncovering the Hidden Influences in Consumer Behaviour

Exploring Freud’s Iceberg Analogy to Dive Deep into Marketing Psychology

The mind’s complexity has always fascinated thinkers and practitioners alike, and none more so than Sigmund Freud. His comparison of the mind to an iceberg, with its most substantial part hidden beneath the surface, offers invaluable insights for marketers. As a marketing enthusiast and an avid student of human psychology, I find this analogy particularly illuminating. It suggests that to truly engage with our audience, we must delve beneath the visible layer of consumer behaviour to understand the deeper, often subconscious, motivations that drive their decisions.

Consider a typical customer – let’s call her Sarah. On the surface, Sarah might simply seem like she’s buying a luxury handbag. But dive deeper, and you’ll discover it’s not just about the handbag. It’s about what the handbag represents – status, self-esteem, and identity. Understanding this hidden layer of motivation allows for more empathetic and effective marketing strategies that resonate on a deeper level.

Sigmund Freud’s model of the human psyche is often visualised as an iceberg floating in water, symbolising the three levels of the mind.

The Conscious Mind (Tip of the Iceberg): This is the aspect of our mental processing that we can think and talk about rationally. It includes our immediate awareness facilitated by our attention at any given time, such as perceptions, thoughts, fantasies, and feelings.

The Preconscious Mind (Just Below the Surface): This part contains information that is not currently in the conscious mind but can easily be brought into consciousness. It acts as a sort of repository for just below the surface memories and knowledge. These can include things that are not presently on the conscious mind but that you can recall if needed, like how to do your job or what you had for dinner last night.

The Unconscious Mind (Deep Below the Surface): This is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness. The unconscious mind is thought to be a source of desires, thoughts, and memories that are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict. Freud believed that the unconscious continues to influence behavior even though people are unaware of these underlying influences.

Freud suggested that many of our primary instincts, such as life (Eros) and death (Thanatos) instincts, are at the unconscious level. He believed that the unconscious is the source of our motivations, whether they be simple desires for food or sex, or more complex emotions such as the fear of death or the need for love.

For a more detailed explanation, you can visit the page on Verywell Mind that discusses Freud’s iceberg theory: Freud’s Iceberg Theory on Verywell Mind.

Marketing Examples

Emotional Branding: Apple Inc. doesn’t just sell technology; they sell an experience, an identity. They tap into the deeper desire for innovation, community, and status, going beyond the functional aspects of their products.

Storytelling in Advertising: Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign is more than a slogan; it’s a call to action. It connects with the deep-seated desire for achievement and self-improvement, motivating customers on a subconscious level.

Influencer Marketing: Influencers don’t just showcase products; they embody lifestyles and values their followers aspire to. This tactic taps into the deep desire for belonging and social validation.


“Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert B. Cialdini – A groundbreaking work that delves into the psychology behind why people say “yes” and how to apply these principles ethically in marketing.

“Contagious: How to Build Word of Mouth in the Digital Age” by Jonah Berger – This book explores why certain products and ideas become popular, using psychological insights to drive marketing strategies.

“Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” by Dan Ariely – Ariely’s work offers profound insights into the irrational ways consumers behave and how marketers can use this understanding to their advantage.

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