By Blair Heckel
Consumers are constantly and consistently influenced whether they realize it or not and that is the whole point of subliminal marketing. Subliminal perception, by definition, is “the perception of a stimulus without being aware of it;” therefore, subliminal marketing is when consumers perceive a product or brand image without being aware of it or why they perceive it that way. This is also called “Sneaky Marketing.” Whether online, on TV, or in brick and mortar settings, aesthetics are extremely influential in our buying decisions.
Have you ever thought about why you purchased something from a store? Was it on your list of items needed or was it on impulse? Was it conveniently placed to catch your attention? You are likely feeling the effects of Sensory Marketing, a stimulus that plays on your five senses. Sensory Marketing, by definition, creates a favorable product or brand impressions in the conscious mind by applying to one or more of the five senses. To demonstrate, we’ve broken down the five senses and how each is affected by sensory marketing.
Music in retail stores is something you might think is just a part of the brand or just a part of the atmosphere. Music, however, is one surefire way to attract customers and get them to stay. Abercrombie’s blasting soundtracks catch you at the other end of the mall with their loud bass in order to attract their target market which is usually teenagers and tweens. They cultivate an image of youthfulness, playfulness and mild rebellion to attract the “popular” kid, the one who loves to party and look good. On the contrary, go to a small boutique like Francesca’s and the music is more ethereal and relaxed targeting a more mature and sedate market. Music in television ads makes you want to buy Oscar Meyer Wieners or adopt a dog from Sarah McLaughlin. Why is this? Because music plays on your emotions. It can make you happy, sad, angry, calm and many other emotions and those emotions become associated with that particular brand.
Even the very products that we buy are manufactured to make a particular sound that resonates with consumers. A good example of this phenomenon would be the sound of a car door shutting. Automotive manufacturers have deliberately design their doors to make a loud shutting noise so we, as drivers, feel secure that it is closed.
Taste is by far the biggest reason we buy the foods we eat. I try not to think about how much sugar is added to my Cola or how much salt is sprinkled on my Micky D’s fries because they are SO GOOD! I know they aren’t good for me, but the happiness I experience when I taste the first hot fry makes me forget all about it. Even though I love the occasional fast food, I recognize a growing category in foods is the health food market. You’ve got protein shakes, energy bars and Lean Cuisines to name just a few. People want to lose weight and feel healthy without starving themselves. Protein, in various forms, is one way to stay full. A new product I’ve seen in the market recently are the cricket protein bars. Yuk! Crickets? Yes, that violin playing bug is a good energy source and keeps you full for a long time. So how does that make it into your grocery store? Manufacturers and marketers conduct taste tests so you get the best product without that cardboard taste. This typically means adding chocolate, peanut butter and sugar - to taste!
Remember what it’s like to walk down the food court in a mall on your way to the shops? You can catch a whiff of Cinnabon, Panda Express and maybe Starbucks coffee brewing. Smell plays a big role in attracting consumers to stores and products. Some stores even have a scent attached to the products you will be buying. For example, one store sells baking products but does not bake on the premises and instead uses machines to “pump” a whiff of that baking scent into the air. And isn’t it weird that the Rainforest café has the scent of the rainforest… in an urban shopping mall?
When you were a kid, I’m sure you saw plenty of signs that read, “Please do not touch,” only adding to the appeal of wanting to touch the product. Certain products do need to be felt before buying such as clothing, mattresses, pillows, bedding, makeup and technology products for testing the softness, quality and weight. Brookstone is an example of a store that allows you to have a fun experience while testing out their products. You’re going to want to know if that massage chair can really get down and ease your pain.
I’m sure you already knew that the light in certain stores affect your decision making process. Certain stores prefer a cooler, low-key store with dim lighting. Abercrombie, Hollister and Francescas all play different genres of music, but like to keep their stores dark, while showing off their clothing with highlighted tables and shelves. Why might this be? Could it be to give it a too-cool-for-school vibe or is it to hide low-quality products? In comparison, Forever 21, Target and grocery stores are brightly lit because the stores are typically larger, and want you to have the optimum shopping experience.
Clean and organized provide for the optimum shopping experience.
Say you went to Express, which happens to be a favorite store of mine! This is the perfect place to find fashionable and dressy clothing especially when it comes to business attire. All the items are hung with the hangars facing the same direction and jeans are folded nicely on top of each other. Professional attire deserves a professional shopping experience. Grocery stores have each foods aligned with their category, brand, and product. It’s hard to get lost in the grocery store when you have carefully hung signs above each aisle.
Organized Chaos is a planned thing
As I mentioned earlier, Forever 21, in comparison to Abercrombie and Francesca, has brightly lit stores carrying today’s current and most popular trends. So, does it not strike you odd that the employees who work tirelessly to make sure that the store is clean and the inventory is stocked for the next day forgot to tidy the place up a bit?
This is actually a strategic choice by Forever 21. The longer it takes you to find a particular item of clothing, the more likely you’ll come across something else that strikes your fancy. You go in thinking that you need a basic white tank and leave with a party top you didn’t even know you needed until you saw it.
That pack of gum at the register…
This last part really needs little explanation as we all have seen the impulse items at stores. We know they are strategically placed as the last items we’ll see as we stand at the register to check the items we need. I’ve never been mad that I bought a candy bar or a magazine on impulse, but it is a part of the company’s strategy. Lip glosses and accessories stand across the lines from Forever 21 and ear buds and jump drives are located at every register at Best Buy.
When you think of strategy for a company, you might think of target market and demographics. Now we can clearly understand how sensory marketing can affect our emotions and perceptions of companies as well as their products. The next questions after comprehending their strategies are “How does this affect me?” and “Does it change how I think about shopping?”
For me, personally, I might not purchase an oven even if I smell the aroma of cookies baking. However, I might buy a magazine with Duchess Kate on the cover even if I don’t need it. It’s up to you how you spend your funds and whether you choose to acknowledge that no matter where you go, your perceptions might be at the hands of the marketing department. Maybe the best way to manage your funds is to stay away all together. Out of sight, out of mind?