Pioneer of depth psychological market research – the life of Wilhelm Salber

Dirk Ziems

Professor Wilhelm Salber died on 2 December 2016 , at the age of 88. Wilhelm Salber was a pioneer of depth psychological market research, a movement in qualitative market research which has established itself in Germany, and is gaining importance worldwide.

We at concept m mourn the passing of the founder of morphological psychology, which is the guiding star for our research and consulting institute.

Professor Salber’s morphology offers a completely independent theory of psychology, something which is very unusual in the national and international academic scene. Wilhelm Salber set out morphological psychology as a logical restatement of the tradition of depth psychology of Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung.

Morphology enables us to view the phenomena of everyday life and everyday consumption in a very different light, from a decidedly psychological perspective. Behind the apparently self-explanatory details of daily life, product use and purchasing rituals are hidden structures of meaning which morphological methodology systematically and reliably deciphers for us. When we as morphological market researchers decode the secret logic of markets, we are only able to do so because we can draw on Wilhelm Salber’s radical new and different view of everyday psychology.

Salber was both a constructive and disruptive thinker. He was fortunate enough to be a prodigy, with universal interests and gifts in the fields of literature, film, art, philosophy and psychology. In the 50s and 60s, when German universities were re-establishing themselves, he had the freedom and resources to develop his scientific project of morphological psychology in “splendid isolation”, decisively and without academic compromises. In contrast to the frequently hectic academic mill where careers can be made on reformulating parts of parts of theories, Salber constructed a whole independent theoretical construct with patience and persistence. His sources and predecessors were holistic and gestalt psychology, psychoanalysis and phenomenology.

The conviction that psychology should start from holistic and gestalt connections between meanings led Salber to a radically disruptive position compared with academic psychology, which was dominated by the behaviourist, experimentalist and cognitive mainstream. His confrontation with psychoanalysis was both disruptive and constructive. With his critical attitude to the “externalising” presentations of drives, energies and steam engine metaphors, he stood the discourse about the unconscious on its head. Instead of starting from the individual, morphology begins with units of action and everyday forms which are determined by basic forms and the laws of their effects. The famous morphological hexagram of motives can be used to reconstruct the unconscious relationships between effects in lively everyday language and close to the phenomena.

What particularly distinguishes morphological psychology is that it is the only depth psychology which takes its insights from a wide range of areas of application which are constantly cross-pollinating. Everyday psychology, market psychology, media psychology, art psychology, clinical psychology and cultural psychology are treated by morphology as connected perspectives. In his impressively extensive work, with over 35 books, Wilhelm Salber systematically worked through them, and subsequent generations of morphological psychologists have further explored the various fields of application.

At concept m, we also build on the advantage of morphological psychology, the ability to see apparently unconnected fields in a broader context. Seeing the interrelationships of art, culture and media as mentoring psychology broadens our psychological perspective and our psychological understanding of markets, brands and products.

Morphological cultural psychology in particular is a pillar of morphological market analysis. After Wilhelm Salber, social and market trends are no longer simply a sign of the times. Instead, the trend figures which market research meets every day, for example the hipster in advertising, the smart watch user with stress optimisation, the protest voter in their media tunnel, or manga style as a a safety valve in Asian societies, should be understood as symbols and expressions of overarching cultural transformations.

The unbroken curiosity and the need to reveal the deeper meaning of the subjects of research have always driven Wilhelm Salber’s morphological psychology. This inheritance remains as an ambition and a commitment of morphological psychological market researchers.

Author: Dirk Ziems

Dirk Ziems
Dirk Ziems ist Experte für tiefenpsychologisches Marketing und berät auf Basis von Markt-, Medien- und Kulturforschung weltweit Unternehmen und Konzerne in zahlreichen Branchen und Ländern. Als Mitbegründer der Global Research Boutique Concept M und der Marketingberatung Flying Elephant begleitet er Themen wie die Adaption von Erfolgsprodukten in neuen kulturellen Kontexten, das tiefe Verständnis neuer Konsumgenerationen in China und USA, die Transformation der Werbekommunikation in der neuen digitalen Medienwelt oder die Neuorientierung der Brands in Post-Corona-Zeiten. Dirk Ziems ist auch als Gastdozent an verschiedenen Universitäten tätig.

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