Vance Packard and His Eight Hidden Needs of the Consumer

Do you need everything you buy? Much of what you consume you do to satisfy your emotions, longings, and deep desires. This is something that the marketing world has known for a long time and that it uses to its advantage.
Vance Packard and His Eight Hidden Needs of the Consumer
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 18 December, 2023

One of the first people to warn about the manipulative abilities of advertising was Vance Packard. He was an economist, sociologist, and avid writer with a highly critical perspective.

In fact, he taught us how marketing has made us slaves to consumerism. His book, The Hidden Persuaders, published in 1957, was one of his most iconic works.

We could say Packard was one of the figures most committed to enlightening us on the subject of consumerism. Indeed, he didn’t hesitate to warn of the fact that society would end up looking much like the universes that George Orwell and Aldous Huxley described in their classic novels. Moreover, according to him, one of the objectives of many industries is that we become real spenders.

As a matter of fact, big advertising companies appeal to our emotions to transform us into unreasonable consumers. These ideas that Packard transmitted to us in the 50s are still relevant today, in the 21st century.

In fact, it’s interesting to consider his theory about our inherent needs, the kind that marketing experts have been using as a means of manipulation for almost a century.

“You can probably make them do anything for you: sell them things they don’t need, make women you don’t know fall in love with you.” 

-Vance Packard-

Woman shopping wrapped up on the January slope and thinking about the Hidden Needs Inventory
Advertising companies recognize our needs and make us believe that certain products will fulfill our aspirations.

Packard’s hidden needs

You may not have heard of emotional marketing. It refers to the mechanisms that advertising uses to influence what you buy by appealing to your emotions.

Indeed, it’s clear that when a product generates feelings of desire, nostalgia, curiosity, or fascination in you, you’re quick to take out your credit card. In The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard laid the foundations for understanding these mechanisms of advertising.

When it comes to selling something, companies seek to make you believe that you need their products. Behind your emotion, lies your feeling of need. Emotion gives you an ephemeral sensation, while need concerns a deep longing.

However, there’s a problem. As you well know, acquiring certain products rarely fully satisfies your urges or needs. The use of manipulation and the art of persuasion makes you fall prey to endless traps.

That’s because you don’t only consume to satisfy your most basic needs, such as food. Other hidden ones direct your buying behavior.

You become a consumer when you buy products that you don’t really need, but that big companies make you believe are crucial to your well-being and happiness.

Packard’s eight hidden needs of the consumer

1. Emotional security

The first of Packard’s hidden needs of the consumer is emotional security. It suggests that every product must generate a positive, pleasant, and satisfying experience. Furthermore, when you buy something, you’re looking for it to alleviate your daily suffering and discomfort.

For instance, you want your shower gel to give you pleasurable sensations. Maybe you want it to transport you with its fragrance to an exotic place, or to remind you of your childhood.

On the other hand, fridge ads appeal to your notions of home, family, durability, and safety. This whole universe of sensations helps you choose what to buy.

2. Reassurance of worth

What does the car you drive say about you? How does the brand of mobile phone you use define you? You want your acquisitions to give you a certain status.

In addition, you want your purchases to convey the idea that what you do is in tune with your values. For example, if you buy organic products or those with recyclable packaging, they make you feel like you’re leading a more natural and ecological life.

3. Ego gratification

Hedonism, pleasure, pride… Who doesn’t like to occasionally meet these needs?  Indeed, almost all of us delight in consuming something that makes us feel good, makes us look more attractive, or provides us with a release of endorphins. Food, clothing, technology… The marketing industry knows that they have to constantly gratify the consumer’s ego to captivate it.

4. Creative outlets

Human beings like to show that they’re bright and creative. For this reason, companies don’t hesitate in creating mechanisms to make consumers perceive that they’re innovative and witty individuals.

How do they do it? By creating increasingly original, striking, and cutting-edge products. Every sector is obliged to renew itself, not only to advance with the times, but also to encourage the individual in their need to have more creative, futuristic, and groundbreaking products.

5. Objects that take you back to your childhood

We previously mentioned emotional marketing and its importance. Another of Packard’s hidden needs is emotion. A study conducted by the University of St Andrews (Scotland) explains how Coca-Cola has always used emotional resonance to strengthen its market.

One powerful need that we all have is recalling our emotions from childhood. Love, security, complicity, being carefree… All these experiences are attractive and we look for them in the smells, flavors, and sensations of many products.

If a product reminds you of happy moments from your childhood, it’s likely that you’ll buy it, as opposed to another product that only arouses neutral emotions or needs in you.

6. Sense of power

While the aforementioned need to add value pushes you to look for products that make you feel useful, civic-minded, or respectful of society or the environment, there’s another well-known need. Some people seek to acquire products that allow them to portray a powerful and distinguished image.

These are undoubtedly the most exclusive products. They’re aimed at the more elite consumers who generally seek specific brands.

7. Roots

Do you know how to define your roots? What pillars give meaning to the person you are? Dimensions such as family, nationality, or even sports teams trace these foundations that build who you are.

The seventh of Packard’s hidden needs emphasizes that advertising is well aware of this feature and they utilize it in many of their products.

8. Immortality

Creams that promise everlasting youthful skin. Clothes, perfumes, and makeup that propose to take years off you. Mobile phones with unbreakable screens, highly reliable cars that’ll never let you down, detergents with clean fragrances that last for weeks on your clothes… Who of us doesn’t like everything around us to last, be never-ending, or make us feel younger than we really are?

Immortality and our desire to not think of death is the final hidden need of the consumer on Packard’s list.

Woman shopping online wondering why I buy things I don't need?
We often buy products trying to satisfy certain needs that aren’t really that important.

Selling sensations and ideas

The world of marketing and advertising does more than sell products. The big companies sell you sensations, emotions, and the idea that you can satisfy your needs with their brands, but not with others.

Knowing this and taking it into account, will prevent you from falling into the trap of consumerism that only leads to dissatisfaction and excessive spending. The kind that Vance Packard warned us about seven decades ago.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Gao, W. (2022). Research on Emotional Marketing Based on the Case Study of Coca-Cola. In: Li, X., Yuan, C., Ganchev, I. (eds) Proceedings of the 2022 International Conference on Business and Policy Studies. CONF-BPS 2022. Applied Economics and Policy Studies. Springer, Singapore.
  • Packard, Vance (1957) Las formas ocultas de la propaganda. (Editorial Sudamericana).

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.