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Betty Crocker's Egg


Analysis > Betty Crocker's Egg


The story

In the early 50s Freud's psychoanalytic approaches were sweeping America, even to the point where the CIA was trying to use it for mass-control of the population. Although these alarming mind-control experiments had limited success at best, there were some notable successes, particularly in promotion.

A place where it proved successful was in the unassuming kitchens of middle-class families. Betty Crocker Foods had produced an instant cake-mix. All you needed to do was to add water to the supplied powder. By today's standards, the result was probably quite unpalatable, but then, it was something of a miracle.

The problem was that the miracle mixture did not sell. Undaunted, Betty turned to the new science of psychoanalysis to help solve the problem.

The conclusion of the psychoanalysts that she employed was that the although the average American housewife very much appreciated the convenience of the cake mix, she felt guilty at deceiving her husband and other guests into thinking she had worked hard for them when, in fact, she had done very little work. 

Their answer: add an egg.

An egg also has the connotation of life and birth, making the creation of the cake more meaningful -- the housewife thus 'gives birth' for her husband.

Changing the recipe to add an egg to the mixture (which was suitably modified to make space for one egg's worth of protein and cholesterol) offered the guilty housewife a way out. By doing more than adding water, by adding a real ingredient, she could assuage her guilt.

The result: sales soared.

Freud 1, Housewives 0


Was it all so Freudian? Were the housewives feeling guilty? Maybe -- but there are other explanations. For example:

  • Eggs are known for their nutritional value. Adding nutrition would seem to result in a better cake.
  • It may assuage guilt to add an egg, but the Freudian 'birth' stuff could be theoretical nonsense.
  • Doing work adds investment to the process, thus creating a sense of ownership.

The bottom line, however, is that it worked. In today's pre-packaged economy, there may be opportunity for purveyors of instant, one-shot goods to add a little activity into the process that actually increases sales.

See also

Propaganda, Investment principle


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