Transactional Analysis (TA):

Throughout my early career I became something of a specialist in advertising development research: the kind of project where you take a set of scripts or storyboards out into groups to see if they grab people or not.

One of the essential components of this kind of work is to have a language for talking about the tone of voice or style of behavior depicted in the prospective commercial and whether it works to engage and motivate or not. Transactional Analysis intrigued me because it had tackled just that problem – the issue of finding an easy to understand language to communicate with patients about the workings of their psyches – and doing so in a way that these ‘inner voices’ were simply described.

The founder of TA, Eric Berne, called these voices the Ego States. This language, with its famous Parent, Adult, Child model was particularly appropriate for advertising because so often commercials attempt to skirt the rational defences of the mind and engage our childlike delights or pleasures.

The basic TA model is here: the idea is that there are three core components to consciousness, three voices if you like – a Parent, an Adult and a Child.

Each one has a particular tone and affect, summarized below:






The fun thing is that you can experience each of these voices for yourself from moment to moment. Your parent voice can be either controlling or nurturing, your adult presents facts and observations while your child hums that jingle or pop tune you can’t get out of your head! The beauty of the model is that it can be checked out experientially by any of us at any time. We can check out its reality as our inner voices do speak to us in different styles. In advertising research we often used references to these voices to analyse the impact – or lack of it – of advertising.

There is a brilliant example of a TA enhanced commercial here: the R White’s Secret Lemonade Drinker:

Here an adult who creeps downstairs in an exaggerated ‘tippy-toes’ walk to help himself to some Lemonade from the fridge. He is totally gripped by his Child ego state. His expression is of delight. Just as he drinks his lemonade, his wife appears behind him, completely in her Parent, and we wonder for a few seconds whether she will scold him (Critical Parent) or empathise (Nurturing Parent).

Because the advertiser wants to encourage our empathy and participation, a smile dawns on her face and she accepts her man’s bizarre behaviour. All of this takes place over a jingle, a mock rock track sung in a very Free Child voice. For a pdf of this post go here:
[sdfile url=””]