Jan 14 2009

Are You Sure You Are The One Choosing What You Eat?

Published by at 9:28 pm under General,Products

photo by <a href=“We want you to get lost.” said Tim Magill, designer of Mall of America, as quoted by Douglass Rushkoff in the second chapter titled “Atmospherics” from his book Coercion: Why We Listen to What “They” Say.

Rushkoff goes on to examine the transformation of the outdoor open-air market to the mall: a closed pseudo community designed to entrap the consumer into finding comfort in purchasing items to satisfy their needs.  This is the science of Atmospherics:

[With the rise of Atmospherics] retailers no longer pretended they were simply selling their products in the best possible light.  They were doing more than just associating their wares with a desirable lifestyle.  They were creating atmospheres that triggered an emotional need: to be part of a world that was different from everyday reality…Salespeople were no longer focusing on the attributes of the product but of the customers.

– Rushkoff pg. 73

If this is now a de-facto standard in operating procedure for all retail in America, the grocery store is among the most advanced in this marketing science.  Not only does the supermarket continually strive to understand what you want and why, but it works on increasingly tuned parameters to make you choose what you want.




The December 2008 Christmas issue of The Economist featured an article that shines a light on current developments in learning about and informing your decisions from the moment you step into a grocery store.

The article begins:

It may have occurred to you, during the course of a dismal trawl round a supermarket indistinguishable from every other supermarket you have ever been into, to wonder why they are all the same. The answer is more sinister than depressing. It is not because the companies that operate them lack imagination. It is because they are all versed in the science of persuading people to buy things—a science that, thanks to technological advances, is beginning to unlock the innermost secrets of the consumer’s mind.

– “The Science of Shopping: The way the brain buys”: The Economist – December 18th 2008

As we move towards the RDIF paradigm, we are seeing very advanced techniques for surveying how people make decisions in the grocery aisle.  Some techniques are as simple as baking goods from frozen dough onsite to elicit an olfactory response, to companies like VideoMining that automates the process of face recognition by way of security cameras in the store to Path Intelligence from Britain working with MIT that plots the positions of cellular handsets as they transmit to cellular networks in order to measure a consumer’s “dwell time.”

When one adds this to the story-based marketing employed by companies like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s (Michael Pollan – The Omnivore’s Dilemma) wherein grocery items have small anecdotal tales of the family-based pastoral farms whence they came, and that Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are both multi-billion dollar companies, it becomes questionable whether we are really deciding what is best for us, or whether the positioning of the foods, from top shelf to bottom, left or right, categorized or not, has anything to do with what we bring home in our hemp-cloth shopping bags.

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One response so far

One Response to “Are You Sure You Are The One Choosing What You Eat?”

  1. DailySpudon 16 Jan 2009 at 4:16 pm

    Excellent post. As consumers, we little realise just how much manipulation of our senses and emotions goes on in order to direct us towards a particular buying choice. Even in those cases where the manipulation is more overt, it can often be easier just to give in and be guided towards those choices anyway, because to do otherwise requires more of an effort on our part as consumers (more than, at times, we are willing to put in) as well as a greater sense of awareness.

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