August 04, 2015

Horse 1951 - Don't Play That Funky Music, Right?

I went to a wedding at the weekend and that invariably means dressing up for the occasion. Finding a suit for me to replace my old jacket (which Mrs Rollo hates and thinks looks like the box that it came in) was the relatively easy part of the task; the more difficult task was for her to build an outfit. That portion of the afternoon took four times as long and I spent a great deal of time trying to avert my eyes from anyone and being thoroughly annoyed by the music playing in ladies' clothing shops.

The way I understand it, ladies' clothing shops seem to assume that there are two kinds of people: those who are youngish that those who are officially old. Even in department stores, there appears to be only these two categories which are demarcated. In the section that assumes that you are officially old, the music coming through the loudspeakers is almost silent but in the 'normal' section, music is piped in at sufficiently loud enough volumes to wake the dead and then make them wish that they were dead again..

Being a man (and therefore the acceptable target for shouldering the blame for all the world's woes) who was often trapped in an environment where the people who possessed a Y chromosome were outnumbered in ratios of double digits to one, I constantly felt as I I had no place in such premises and that given ample opportunity, I might be clubbed to death by handbags containing cosmetics to a greater value than the budgets of small nations. All the while, I had to endure being assaulted by mostly electronic music which was all set to 4/4 common time; with almost every track emphasizing the first and third beat.

Admittedly the flower of my youth wilted a long time ago and Father Time's children have thought it fun to spray paint the side of my head in silver. Grey hair might very well be a crown of splendour upon the old but because I haven't achieved anything like the silver fox status of QandA's Tony Jones, I just end up looking about as cool as a half eaten sandwich discarded upon the pavement. In such circumstances it doubly signals that I do not belong. Further to that, I can feel icy stares of people who would wish that I would go away instantly and oh I wish that I could comply with that wish.

The music which is spewed forth into every one of these shops is roughly of the same sort as you'd find in a nightclub, which is another place that I have no desire to go. Unlike a nightclub where the purpose is one of entertainment, inside ladies' clothing shops it appears to be one of total disarmament. Most of us have some sort of inner monologue which runs through our heads (hence why some people talk to themselves) but the music is played so loudly that I think that its deliberately designed to drown out that inner monologue in the hope of denying customers the chance to properly think and by doing so, make them spend more money.

You can perform this experiment yourself of you like. Try composing a letter or reading a novel with a favourite song playing through a set of ear buds. That same portion of your brain which interprets language is used both for reading/writing and listening. You can not listen to both your inner monologue and the human voice at the same time. One will be ignored and I suspect that is what the purpose of loud music is. What's worse is that if that inner monologue can be drowned out for a sufficiently long enough period of time, that little voice which might warn of buyer's remorse, disappears.

The other thing which is suspect is going on, apart from the territorial claim upon people's head spaces, is a more general claim upon the aural space of the shopping mall. A multi level shopping mall might contain hundreds of shops, all of which have the aim of wresting money from shopper's wallets. By creating a much bigger bubble within a shop and by closing out the front of the shop with boards hawking special offers, I suspect that shops maximise their profit take by keeping people inside their physical space for longer.

Keep people excited; keep them in your space as long as possible and play the music so loud that they can't hear either their internal monologue or their budget speaking to them. That's the way to suck dollars from your customers. 
No wonder I hate shopping malls so much.

It turns out that I was right. There are more than 150 studies which confirm my suspicion. This is one of them; it's scary:
Excitement at the mall: Determinants and effects on shopping response, Journal of Retailing,University of Texas, Sep 1998.

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