New York Post: All Consuming

How Stores suck You In And Make You Spend More
by Maureen Callahan Sept 18, 2011

Illustrations by Dale Stephanos

In so many ways, it would seem ever more difficult to separate the typical American consumer — battered by the Great Recession, bloated jobless numbers, relentless spikes in foreclosures and food stamps — from what little money they have. And yet at no time in history has it ever been simpler to do so, with companies employing the most sinister methods.

“That’s is why I did this book,” says Martin Lindstrom, author of “Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy.”

Lindstrom, a marketing genius who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2009, says that his experience in the field and research into new strategies has led him to become something of an apostate.

TRICK NO. 1Retail and furniture shops install carpeting with extra-high, extra-thick threads, because the physical and psychological effects have been proven to actually make you stop in your tracks and then slow your pace; the longer you stay in the store, the more likely you are to buy.
TRICK NO. 2Credit card companies know what kind of consumer you are before they ever make you an offer. If you buy smoke detectors, you never miss a payment. They love college students, because even though they often pay off debts, they take a long time to do it — which means more interest.

“We have gone too far,” he says. “It’s time to draw a line in the sand — not just to inform the marketers, but to inform consumers so that they can push back.”

We spend nearly every conscious moment being pitched and prodded: at home, on our commute, at work, at sports arenas, the movies, bars, plays, restaurants, clubs, on our phones. Most of us likely consider ourselves sophisticated shoppers, familiar with tactics such as impulse buys and product placement, yet we’re manipulated into making nine out of every 10 purchases.

Despite such success rates, the industry has come to regard these effective techniques as rudimentary and antiquated. Today, the retailers that you patronize, whether brick-and-mortar or online, can predict what product you’re going to buy and when, before it even occurs to you that you’re out of Aquafresh, or will need two rolls of Bounty in about a week.

As described in the new book, “The Two-Second Advantage: How We Succeed by Anticipating the Future — Just Enough,” the US government and multinational corporations are building super-computers that mimic the human brain, which is wired to swiftly synthesize information in order to predict what will happen within seconds.

“Predicting customer and competitive behavior,” write authors Vivek Ranadive and Kevin Maney, “will be a key differentiator in 21st century business.”

Dystopian and Orwellian as this all may sound, no one is safe — not even the unborn. That, after all, is a future consumer.

Lindstrom first became aware of what’s called “priming” while conducting research in Asia — Korea, specifically. He focused on one of that nation’s biggest shopping mall chains, which was particularly popular with pregnant women and young mothers. Why? A few years ago, this mall, while trying to keep their shoppers in stores longer, began pumping in smells and sounds that pregnant women might find soothing — everything from Johnson & Johnson’s baby powder to the aroma of cherries to music that these women themselves would have heard in utero. (Science has since determined that fetuses as young as six months are sensitive and receptive to outside stimuli.)


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