Projective Testing Methods

Motivation Research: Case Studies

In 1959 Dichter conducted a successive series of projective tests to study FAB detergent.


In 1959 Dichter conducted a successive series of projective tests to study FAB detergent. The initial perceptual blindness and brand loyalty package recall test involved 67 participants walking past a wall of shelves with miscellaneous store products like beer and cereal (Dichter, 1959). Five packages of different detergent brands were placed on the shelf in a random order that participants were allowed to look at for eight seconds. Then after leaving the room they were asked to write the names of the 5 detergent packs as well as their favorite or most used detergent pack on the back of the card. The results showed that people tended to see their own favorite or most frequently used detergent pack. Incredibly, people reported seeing their favorite detergent pack when it was not even on display in the experiment! Dichter concluded that people projected their preferences in a shopping situation even when the stimulus is not present. More importantly, he discovered that some people don’t notice new packages or products because of the deep-rooted impression of their preferred brand. Perceptual blindness aside, of all the brands actually displayed and recalled, FAB performed the best. Next, Dichter conducted a sentence completion test where participants had to fill in the blank with the brand name of a detergent pack. There were two statements with fill in the blanks: 

“Lady A’s statement: The Manhattan Shirts and the Big Yank work clothes I bought for my husband have tags on them recommending _________  detergent.

Lady B’s statement: I have bought Exquisite Form bras and Botany sheets which recommend _________ detergent” (Dichter, 1959, p. 75).

In the first iteration of the test, brand names were not provided, while in the second iteration a list of brand names was given to the participants. The results showed that FAB performed much better when the list of brands was provided, as opposed to the projective test where they filled in the blank based on top-of mind associations. Dichter concluded that FAB’s low “latent perceptual impact” because their product had a more “difficult to reproduce impression” without a present stimulus (Dichter, 1959, p. 79). To probe further into this effect, Dichter asked the participants open-ended questions to see if they could recall any ads where the manufacturer endorsed a detergent brand, or if they could recall any actual purchasing experiences where clothing tags recommended a detergent brand. For FAB, the results were unanimous for commercial recall. Thus, their current success was due to their visibility through commercial advertising as opposed to any actual consumer experience. 

Up next was a bubble-fill projective test where participants were presented with a cartoon of four women with thought bubbles around a washing machine. Each woman is using an unnamed, but different detergent product, and makes a comment in their “bubble” about the detergent. Participants were given a list of statements that the women could be saying per how they felt about the detergent/situation that they could agree or disagree with. Therefore the participants projected their identification with the personality traits of each respective cartoon woman through their expressed attitudes towards the detergent. Finally, the participants indicated which detergent brand each woman was likely using. Some example statements were, 

“High suds are bad for the machine, so I try to use a low suds detergent.

I feel that without high suds you can’t do a really good job cleaning. 

A good detergent doesn’t need any suds at all to do a good job cleaning” (Dichter, 1959, p. 98). 

The results showed that the participants identified FAB with an in-between level of suds, and as such should be positioned in the market opposed to heavy and thin suds products. The following projective test instructed participants to indicate which cartoon woman matched a certain personality characteristic: someone who is old-fashioned or modern, higher or lower class, well educated or less so, and if they were more concerned with the present, past, or future (Dichter, 1959). He found that FAB—the goldilocks of suds (not too much, not too little)—was associated with middle-class, past oriented, and better educated people. Thus, through the dynamic use of depth-interviews and a battery of projective tests, Dichter concluded that FAB was associated with “modernity, with in-between high and low suds, with excellent potential for filling the present slt in the time continuum between old-fashioned, past-oriented, high suders and future-oriented, ulta-modern low suders or sudless detergents” (Dichter, 1959, p. 110). The identification of FAB’s brand image was a potent discovery for their advertising, and was all made possible by clever  projective probing. More interesting was Dichter’s process of identifying themes through depth interviews, testing their validity through a series of projective tests, and then connecting all of the data points to create a psychological profile of the brand’s impression upon users. 


The following year in 1960, Dichter conducted a case study for Allstate on a sample of 300 people: 135 Allstate automobile policyholders and 165 policyholders of other companies. Dichter initially discovered through depth interviews that Allstate did not have a uniform consumer, instead they had five psychological types (i.e, attitudes towards Allstate) in their market: people who perceived Allstate to have good service at low cost, those who heard about the good service, those who were disappointed in their service, those who heard about the poor service, and a neutral position. He also discovered that while policy holders thought highly of the brand, the non holders feared the company because they thought it was a cheap alternative. Thus their pricing was a source of anxiety and drove them to avoid Allstate. In turn, he recommended that the company segment their advertising to meet the “contradictory attitudes” and needs of the different consumer psychological profiles (Dichter, 1960, p. 108). To better understand these negative attitudes, Dichter deployed a projective picture test to 96 of the respondents.The picture contained a consumer standing in front of an Allstate counter while the agent told them, 

“Allstate offers the lowest insurance rates available” (Dichter, 1960, p. 81).

The participant was then instructed to indicate what the consumer was thinking to themself. The results demonstrated that the negative attitudes weren’t related to the physical pricing —the nickels and dimes—but how the service and protection were rationalized by the consumer. For example, one participant said, 

“He ought to tell what I’ll be getting for that low cost. You get what you pay for, I always say. Cheap price - cheap insurance” (Dichter, 1960, p. 82).

Again using a projective test as a validation technique, Dichter highlighted a common theme surrounding the negative perceptions of Allstate’s pricing.  To assuage the consumer’s fears that low pricing meant poor coverage, Dichter suggested re-branding Allstate’s low budget plan to economic, while also creating a luxury plan. By allowing the consumer to rationalize the low cost in a positive way (i.e., a low-profit policy), he created brand trust. Another participant said in an interview, 

“ is not something to be sold over the counter in a department store, consequently, I don’t think that people buying from Allstate are getting the service, but they get a second rate of service" (Dichter, 1960, p. 80). 

The person, among others, feared that Allstate’s customer service was too impersonal. Dichter cautioned against their current direct sales pitch on TV and instead promoted the focus towards customer service for non-policy holders. In doing so, he re-framed any perceptions of  impersonal customer service into a customer oriented specialist that gives each individual special attention, promoting feelings of security and protection. The Allstate agent transformed from a “company man” to “your Allstate representative,” (Dichter, 1960, p. 154). This sort of consumer oriented language is now pervasive in many big name insurance companies (i.e., your agent), proving that Dichterian psychology successfully translated into marketing strategy. 


Dichter, E. (1959). A motivational research study on new opportunities for new Fab in the detergent market. Report. Hagley Museum and Library. Market Research & American Business, 1935-1965. 

Dichter, E. (1960). The three images of Allstate. Report. Hagley Museum and Library. Market Research & American Business, 1935-1965.

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