SUPERMARKETING THE ILLUSION OF CHOICE
The illusion of choice, of competing brands fighting valiantly for a share of the market is just that -an illusion. All brands of aspirin, codeine and paracetamol, for example, are wholly identical. They are marketed in a finite number of combinations with a maximum dosage limited by law. Yet manufacturers suggest differences between them, when all that is different is the packaging, marketing and the pricing of the item. This is true for many products found at the supermarket, where the illusion of choice and subliminal manipulation can be explored in depth.
To start out, shoppers requisition an extra large, deep trolley, designed to ensure that there is plenty of room for all of those ‘impulse’ purchases. The trolley itself provides a psychological illusion - an empty space waiting to be filled. If a shopper only purchases a few miserable items then the implication - of the big unfilled trolley - is that the person is cheap and nasty. If a child accompanies an adult to the supermarket, then junior will have the opportunity to wheel her or his own junior shopper trolley', complete with fluttering red flag, just in case the child gets lost along the way.
Upon entering the supermarket, shoppers immediately become a few degrees cooler. Even if there is a heat wave outside, the warm air just doesn't make it past the automatic doors. Cold people eat more and a slightly chilly customer will spend more. The shopper then moves forward through the turn-stiles, which might be associated with fun times at the Royal Easter Show, a theme park, or a special exhibition. Once the turnstiles have been breached, shoppers usually hit strategically placed staples such as fruit and vegetables, or the bakery section, effusing a warm, sickly smell. Every day items, milk and dairy products, will be at one extreme end of the supermarket - the opposite end to the entry turn-stiles - meaning that shoppers have to traverse rows and rows of items just asking to be bought. The meat section is usually a long narrow area located at the back of the supermarket so that shoppers have to pass by two or three times as they continue up and down the other aisles. The areas which display staple food items will be narrower or more confined than the 'wide aisles', ensuring that customers have to compete for a piece of the action.
Once the shopper begins navigating the supermarket obstacle course, they are faced with a myriad of distractions. Instore announcements blare over mindless background Muzac. Trolleys, which are deliberately designed to travel at a snails pace, gnash against each other in the fight to secure the right of passage down the aisle. Shoppers stop, staring blank faced at walls of soap powders, dog food, soft drinks, chips or ice creams, overwhelmed by the illusion of choice. It's no coincidence that the leading brands are placed at eye level, and that lollies and dollies are on the lowest shelves where small hands can reach them. The food titans pay very high prices for the conspicuous positioning of their brands on the supermarket shelves.
Brand placement goes hand in hand with brand loyalty, one of the most important factors influencing an item's success or failure in the marketplace. Brand loyalty occurs because the consumer perceives that the brand offers the right product features, image, or level of quality at the right price. Purchasing ‘safe’ and ‘familiar brands’ then becomes habitual for the consumer and profitable for the respective multinational food corporations. In order to create brand loyalty, advertisers must break old consumer habits, help people acquire new habits, and reinforce those habits by reminding consumers of the value of their purchase and encouraging them to buy their products in the filture.
Every advertising crusade tries to ‘win’ consumer’s brand loyalty with products designed to save us from the drudgery of cleaning, cooking and domestic chores. The illusion of competition and choice is quite erroneous. The food titans Nestle and Unilever control a vast plethora of brand names, which 'compete' among themselves and against each other. Unilever's portfolio of leading brands include Continental, Five Brothers, Flora, Magnum Ice Cream, Dove personal wash, Lipton tea, Findus, Birdseye, Becel, Domestos, Omo, Rexona, Organics, Sunsilk, Lux, Vaseline, Ponds, Close Up (toothpaste) and Calvin Klein fragrance. The difference between brands might come down to something as simple as the colour of the packaging, the fragrance of the contents, or even the marketing campaign, culminating in a ridiculous scenario where Unilever's Organics shampoo competes with its own Sunsilk. Similarly, Nestle, which claims to provide “food through out their day, throughout their lives and throughout the world”, owns the brand names Nescafe, Lean Cuisine, Nesquick, Milo, Peters, Aliens, Lucky Dog, Carnation, Crunch, Vittel, Perrier, Friskies, Go Cat, Smarties, Maggi, Kit Kat and Activ.
The packaging of products is a multibillion dollar industry, based upon psychological research which ensures maximum mind manipulation inside the supermarket. Red and yellow have been found to stimulate appetite, and are used extensively in food packaging (and also at hamburger franchises). Blue is a cool colour and green is psychologically associated with freshness. Dairy foods might be packaged in blue and yellow, or green and yellow containers (yellow to stimulate hunger, green or blue to indicate coldness or freshness). Hot chickens are wrapped in red or orange foil bags indicative of heat, the colour doing nothing at all to keep the food hot. Toothpaste packaging might be white and blue or green, with a hint of silver (for sparkling white teeth). Coffee is packaged in brown or black (indicating style) with a touch of gold (for quality).
Weasel words are used to embellish a product, making them sound better than they really are. Words such as ‘extra’, ‘super’, ‘double’ or ‘soothing’ induce consumers to pay a premium for what are usually regular, every day products. Other weasel words are 'natural' and 'lite'. Many food products claim to be made from ‘natural’ ingredients, giving the illusion of goodness or wholesomeness. In reality, 'natural' fruit juice comes from imported fruits, juiced (skins and all) and blended in a factory then squirted into a cardboard box (the box may have been irradiated). This mass produced juice is then advertised as 'fresh' and 'natural'. Another example, in an age of weight consciousness, are the many products marketed as ‘lie’, with less fat. Gullible consumers are merely paying a premium for products that are whipped ‘lite’ with air, extra water and chemical thickening agents.
Another mind manipulation tactic, most recently adopted in Australia, is the jingoistic appeal to patriotism. This swindle is devised to sell goods by preying on the consumer's love of their country. Products are marketed using the Australian flag and national icons such as the Kangaroo or the Aussie colours - green and gold. The guilt trip is nurtured by lines such as “ensure a future for your children and grandchildren,” “Stop selling Australia out” or “give our kids a job.” Australia was sold out to multinationals long ago and these doubtful attempts to ‘buy back the farm’ equate to no more than profiting from people's insecurities. Consumers are psychologically rewarded with a warm inner glow, thinking that they are 'doing something' to 'help' their country. It also offers an avenue for discontented, disaffected and disgruntled ‘protest’ against multinational corporations, which own the shopping centres, and supermarkets where food is bought. This jingoism is now rife throughout the advertising industry with everything from chocolates to funeral parlours pleading with us to help the ‘little Aussie battlers’.
MANIPULATION OF YOUNG MINDS
Advertising and marketing firms have long used the insights and research methods of psychology to sell products to children. Today these practices are reaching epidemic proportions, with an enormous advertising and marketing onslaught that comprises, arguably, the largest single psychological project ever undertaken. A great deal of collusion between some members of the psychology professions, marketing, advertising and entrepreneurial firms occur as they work together to try to understand how best to sell things to young children. Psychologists are regulars at marketing conferences and in magazines such as Selling to Kids and SalesDoctors. Advertising giants like Saatchi and Saatchi brag that their “global review” of child psychology gives them the edge when serving clients. Using psychological principles to sell products to children means not only selling a product, but also a larger value system that says making money and using money to purchase material goods is the road to happiness.
Modern computing power and data mining capabilities are providing the mind manipulators with new tools to delve into our psyche. A growing Internet phenomena is online profiling. This new type of subliminal ad strategy is based upon a profile of the individual that is built up over time. Information about browsing habits is culled from various web sites, then every time the person logs on to the Net, they are immediately inundated with banners based on their profile. Web Site banners suddenly offer products and services that the person is interested in, based upon their profile. Similar subliminal sales tactics will be used as Web-TV becomes widespread.
In many respects, the modern person is increasingly confronted with the face of friendly fascism. Not the jackboots and mass rallies that comprise the popular stereotype of fascism, but rather an insidious, public relations savvy manipulation of power for profit.
The manufacture of consent. The creation of necessary illusions. Various ways of either marginalising the general public or reducing them to apathy in some fashion. This type of indoctrination and entrapment is innocuous and painless, it takes over not by force but by running everyone ragged trying to survive, to keep up with the 'Jones's'. Waking sleep becomes the distraction of choice: the half awake sleep of mindlessly gazing at the TV screen, the mechanical repetition associated with most jobs, the hypnotic trance of being self-absorbed, and the isolated anonymity of being alone, together. The mind is suffocated and the spirit is stifled by corporate imagination killers who offer us everything from anti-aging creams to dog foods which 'produce' less sloppy stools.
In this trance like state, citizens become the easy prey of governments, who rely on the mainstreaming of opinion to propagate apathetic and listless indifference. The complete mind manipulation of the citizen by corporations and government is thus perfected.
Previously published in New Dawn magazine.
1. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kainpf, from Chapter VI: War Propaganda
2. For a discussion on Gerbner's cultivation theory, see “Cultivation Theory” by Daniel Chandler at http//users.aber.ac.uk/dgc/cultiv.html
3. As well as being a cause of more aggressive behaviour among viewers.
4. Cited in Condry, John (1989): The Psychology of Television. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
5. Big Brother sponsors in Australia included products iPrimus, Freedom, Sony Style, Sony Playstation, Shutters Direct, Blue Haven Pools & Spas, Mr Stoves, HPM Industries, Caroma Industries, Stratco, Kleenmaid, Tilec, Emailair Airconditioning Systems
6. Baigent, M., and Leigh, ~ (1997) The Elixir and the Stone, The Tradition of Magic and Alchemy, Viking, Australia.
Susan Bryce is an Australian journalist and publisher of the newsletter Australian Freedom & Survival Guide. Her interests include global politics, big brother and the New World Order. Australian Freedom & Survival Guide airs the dirty laundry of big brother, big business and big government, exposing the realities and personalities behind globalisation, genetic engineering, the international surveillance regime, corporate power and military research. AF&SG is available by subscription only. Six issues for $45.OO per year. Sample issue $7.50. Send cheque or money order payable to S. Bryce P0 Box 66 Kenilworth QId 4574 Australia. Email: email@example.com