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Thanatos: The Death Drive


The chief goal of every single living thing on this earth is twofold: survival of the body and reproduction (survival of genes). As such, there are two primitive drives that supplant all others regarding most day-to-day activities: Thanatos and Eros, death and sex. I'm not a big fan of Freud, but he was certainly right about these two drives, though there are many others that I have named and will cover later.


Today's focus is on Thanatos, which is less Freudian and self-destructive in my study and discipline and has more to do with the avoidance of death rather than the gravitation towards it.


The reason death as a drive is so important to analyze in marketing is because it isn't dealt with consciously. People, when they think of death, use symbols to conceptualize it, such as the skull above, or tombstones, or coffins, or a myriad of other images. People don't generally imagine themselves as a rotting cadaver devoid of thought and feeling.


This means advertising for things that promote safety (seat-belts, helmets, fire-retardants, etc), or prepare for the inevitable (life insurance, funerary preparations), can't directly tackle death, because the conscious mind shies away from it. Instead, symbols and alternatives have to be used to get a person to PROCESS their desires in relation to preservation and planning subconsciously BEFORE they can take conscious action.


Preservation is closely tied to that most ancient part of the brain, the Watchman, the amygdala. The amygdala is responsible for the fear response, for running when chased, and for anxiety whenever a threat takes on a more modern form, like workplace stresses. It is linked to the Thanatos drive and will block out (or respond with panic) to anything perceived as a threat, and that is why it is so difficult to get a person to become an organ donor or create a living will, or purchase life insurance.


This is why it is essential to circumvent the Watchman amygdala by using positive connotation, symbols, and proxies. If you tackle Thanatos directly, you will lose your audience and lose your customer.


Next week: Eros!


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