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Persuasion & control round-up

  • New Scientist: Recruiting Smell for the Hard Sell
    Image from New ScientistSamsung’s coercive atmospherics strategy involves the smell of honeydew melon:

    THE AIR in Samsung’s flagship electronics store on the upper west side of Manhattan smells like honeydew melon. It is barely perceptible but, together with the soft, constantly morphing light scheme, the scent gives the store a blissfully relaxed, tropical feel. The fragrance I’m sniffing is the company’s signature scent and is being pumped out from hidden devices in the ceiling. Consumers roam the showroom unaware that they are being seduced not just via their eyes and ears but also by their noses.

    In one recent study, accepted for publication in the Journal of Business Research, Eric Spangenberg, a consumer psychologist and dean of the College of Business and Economics at Washington State University in Pullman, and his colleagues carried out an experiment in a local clothing store. They discovered that when “feminine scents”, like vanilla, were used, sales of women’s clothes doubled; as did men’s clothes when scents like rose maroc were diffused.

    A spokesman from IFF revealed that the company has developed technology to scent materials from fibres to plastic, suggesting that we can expect a more aromatic future, with everything from scented exercise clothing and towels to MP3 players with a customised scent. As more and more stores and hotels use ambient scents, however, remember that their goal is not just to make your experience more pleasant. They want to imprint a positive memory, influence your future feelings about particular brands and ultimately forge an emotional link to you – and more importantly, your wallet.

    (via Martin Howard‘s very interesting blog, and the genius Mind Hacks)

  • Consumerist: 5 Marketing Tricks That Unleash Shopping Frenzies
    Beanie BabiesThe Consumerist’s Ben Popken outlines “5 Marketing Tricks That Unleash Shopping Frenzies”:

    * Artificially limit supply. They had a giant warehouse full of Beanie Babies, but released them in squirts to prolong the buying orgy.
    * Issue press releases about limited supply so news van show up
    * Aggressively market to children. Daddy may not play with his kids as much as he should but one morning he can get up at the crack of dawn, get a Teddy Ruxpin, and be a hero.
    * Make a line of minute variations on the same theme to create the “collect them all” effect.
    * Make it only have one highly specialized function so you can sell one that laughs, one that sings, one that skydives, etc, ad nauseum.

    All of us are familiar with these strategies – whether consciously or not – but can similar ideas ever be employed in a way which benefits the consumer, or society in general, without actual deception or underhandedness? For example, can artificially limiting supply to increase demand ever be helpful? Certainly artificially limiting supply to decrease demand can be helpful to consumers might sometimes be helpful – if you knew you could get a healthy snack in 5 minutes, but an unhealthy one took an hour to arrive, you might be more inclined to go for the healthy one; if the number of parking spaces wide enough to take a large 4 x 4 in a city centre were artificially restricted, it might discourage someone from choosing to drive into the city in such a vehicle.

    But is it helpful – or ‘right’ – to use these types of strategy to further an aim which, perhaps, deceives the consumer, for the ‘greater good’ (and indeed the consumer’s own benefit, ultimately)? Should energy-saving devices be marketed aggressively to children, so that they pressure their parents to get one?

    (Image from Michael_L‘s Flickr stream)

  • Kazys Varnelis: Architecture of Disappearance
    Architecture of disappearance
    Kazys Varnelis notes “the architecture of disappearance”:

    I needed to show a new Netlab intern the maps from Banham’s Los Angeles, Architecture of Four Ecologies and realized that I had left the original behind. Luckily, Google Books had a copy here, strangely however, in their quest to remove copyrighted images, Google’s censors (human? algorithmic?) had gone awry and had started producing art such as this image.

    It’s not clear here whether there’s a belief that the visual appearance of the building itself is copyrighted (which surely cannot be the case – photographers’ rights (UK at least) are fairly clear on this) or whether that by effectively making the image useless, it prevents someone using an image from Google Books elsewhere. The latter is probabky the case, but then why bother showing it at all?

    (Thanks to Katrin for this)

  • Fanatic Attack
    Finally, in self-regarding nonsense news, this blog’s been featured on Fanatic Attack, a very interesting, fairly new site highlighting “entrancement, entertainment, and an enhancement of curiosity”: people, organisations and projects that display a deep passion or obsession with a particular subject or theme. I’m grateful to be considered as such!

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    2. I think these psychopathic organisations who introduce chemical aromas are indeed being deceitful. Sensory manipulation may be big and clever, but it leaves a foul taste.

      When you visit a fruit stall at a market, you may well enjoy the aroma of fresh melons. But then your senses are perceiving reality (their veracity being critically vital after aeons of natural selection).

      Using chemicals to create an illusion, specifically a subliminal one, is deceitful.

      On the other hand if an electronics shop deliberately situates itself next to a fruiterers, then any aroma is honest and truthful. They could even create a small stall within the electronics store by way of saying “Perhaps you’d like a real melon while you’re here?”

      Aromatic deception may succeed in manipulation, but it won’t endear customers once they find out about it.

      There are enough nasty chemicals and aromas evaporating from within electronic devices without making things doubly nasty with a chemically aromatic mask. I’d rather the truth of industrial solvent than the falsehood of MelonomaTM.

      If anything I’d be likely to start associating melons with deceitful electronics companies whenever I smelt the fruit at a market.

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    4. The evolutionary perspective is interesting here.

      Retail stores are like those highly complex, optimized tropical orchids that entice them by scent, then force bugs to navigate a complex internal labyrinth that brings them first past the female parts, then the male ones, and finally some nectar before letting them escape again. The orchids ensure pollination, and ensure against self-pollination, and do it by methods that might be described as “sneaky”.

      Humans now inhabit the world’s most complex environments: huge cities full of noise and color; and everywhere are attempts at demanding our attention, from commercial advertisers to random people to street performers and suchlike.

      Going to the store is an everyday occurrence but throws someone into a pressure-cooker environment that does its darndest by hook and by crook (not to mention subtle manipulation) to stick its hand in their pocket and parasitize them, while they try to get the best deal they can and avoid overspending. Successful stores get at your pocketbook. Successful individuals avoid spending beyond their means despite such temptations as colorful product labels, subliminal scents, or “platinum” credit cards.

      The larger system repeats these forces at larger scales, between chains of stores competing and using methods like sales, coupons, and rebates, and consumers trying to comparison-shop or find alternatives or just do without some things.

      This situation is a recipe for the continued evolution of human intelligence, and even the particular trait of being more “cerebral” in the colloquial sense, more capable of rational and self-interested judgment despite subtle things like scent cues or other attempts at emotional manipulation.

      Once, the main driving force for human intelligence evolving was an outside environment of climate change and variability and food insecurity following the arising of the Central American land bridge two million years ago. Now, it is the very environment we’ve created to shelter us from that climate and efficiently provide food — which means we now pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps, locked into an evolutionary arms race with ourselves.

      One that, thanks to technological advance, is accelerating and about to hit the knee of the curve…

      There is an old Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times” … it seems one of those Chinamen must have cursed an entire generation. Between human-induced climate change and the rapidly complexifying human-created parts of our environment, the world seems about to change drastically, perhaps to the point of unrecognizability, in the space of a mere few decades now.

      Around and around and around it goes; where it stops, no-one knows.

    5. “Should energy-saving devices be marketed aggressively to children, so that they pressure their parents to get one?”

      Generally speaking, I am against aggressive/manipulative advertising that is directed at children, no matter how good the intention behind it. You might be encouraging them to save the planet, but you’re also teaching them to respond positively to manipulative advertising – in other words, to be a mindless consumer who will buy anything they’re told to buy. I have to think that in the long run this is not a good thing for society.

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