Retail Therapy

How Viennese psychologist Ernest Dichter transformed advertising:

What makes soap interesting? Why choose one brand over another? Dichter’s first contract was with the Compton Advertising Agency, to help them sell Ivory soap. Market research typically involved asking shoppers questions like “Why do you use this brand of soap?” Or, more provocatively, “Why don’t you use this brand of soap?” Regarding such lines of inquiry as useless, Dichter instead conducted a hundred so-called “depth interviews”, or open-ended conversations, about his subjects’ most recent scrubbing experiences. The approach was not unlike therapy, with Dichter mining the responses for encoded, unconscious motives and desires. In the case of soap, he found that bathing was a ritual that afforded rare moments of personal indulgence, particularly before a romantic date (“You never can tell,” explained one woman). He discerned an erotic element to bathing, observing that “one of the few occasions when the puritanical American [is] allowed to caress himself or herself [is] while applying soap.” As for why customers picked a particular brand, Dichter concluded that it wasn’t exactly the smell or price or look or feel of the soap, but all that and something else besides—that is, the gestalt or “personality” of the soap.

Modern Family

Neither Jon nor Ian is legally married to Jaiya. Both are allowed to see other women. But the three of them live a lifestyle that—much of the time—isn't that different from a conventional marriage.

On the rise of polyandry, in which one woman settles down with two or more men.

The Jewish Holly-Go-Lightly

Love advice from a beloved aunt.

I try to call my Great Aunt Doris every day. She's ninety-years old and lives alone. I love her desperately and as she gets older, especially of late as she becomes more feeble, my love seems to be picking up velocity, overwhelming me almost, tinged as it is with panic -- I'm so afraid of losing her.

Life After Death

How is Canada’s “post-AIDS” generation coping? Not that well.

[I]n some ways we are still hopelessly lost. A generation of men who could have been our mentors was decimated. The only thing we learned from observing them was to ruthlessly identify “AIDS face,” that skeletal appearance the early HIV drugs wrought on patients by wasting away their bodily tissues. But those faces grow more rare each day.

Married, With Infidelities

On why the Anthony Weiner story makes people more uncomfortable than simple cheating, the shifting meaning of faithfulness in marriage, and the relationship ideals espoused by Dan Savage:

In Savage Love, his weekly column, he inveighs against the American obsession with strict fidelity. In its place he proposes a sensibility that we might call American Gay Male, after that community’s tolerance for pornography, fetishes and a variety of partnered arrangements, from strict monogamy to wide openness.

Looking for Someone

Inside the world of online dating:

If the dating sites had a mixer, you might find OK Cupid by the bar, muttering factoids and jokes, and Match.com in the middle of the room, conspicuously dropping everyone’s first names into his sentences. The clean-shaven gentleman on the couch, with the excellent posture, the pastel golf shirt, and that strangely chaste yet fiery look in his eye? That would be eHarmony.