IT CANNOT have escaped your attention that, here in the western world at least, we are currently in the middle of the annual panic-inducing spendfest we call Christmas.
The wallet-emptying season seems to start earlier each year, presaged by the installation of tinsel on the High Streets and heralded by the predictable litany of familiar tunes over each store’s PA system.
What for me starts off as a welcome reintroduction to classic Christmas songs that I almost think of as old friends (ruba-duba-dum-dum) soon deteriorates into a brain-crushing aural onslaught that makes me determined to get in and out as quickly as possible.
And this, it turns out, may be the whole purpose. Research published this week from Royal Holloway, University of London, claims that these songs make customers want to spend more money.
This force-feeding of festive jingles is “an attempt to manipulate your shopping habits in a way that you might barely be aware of”, said Dr Alan Bradshaw, senior lecturer in marketing at Royal Holloway.
The all-pervading audio is “force-fed to Christmas shoppers in a bid to change their mood, influence their sense of time and what sort of products they buy”, he says.
Bradshaw continues his assessment by saying that the dumbed-down muzak sometimes played instead of real music is both bad for musicians (which is pretty obvious, frankly) and degrading to culture.
I think Dr Bradshaw could do with a reality check here. If the tawdry commercialisation of an ancient midwinter festival is what passes for culture these days, the twee songs and incessant jingles that accompany it are hardly debasing it any further.
It is always worrying when research is presented that purports to explain some phenomenon, but then fails to do so. The publicity material for the Royal Holloway research cites no publication, offers no statistics, and makes two separate and unrelated claims: an unquantified one that the music makes us spend more, and an unqualified one about the ‘negative social implications’ of ‘non-listening’.
What isn’t explained is how this music is supposed to reprogram the consumer to spend more, how much more is spent as a result, and how this supposed effect may have been altered by the inexorable rise of online shopping.
It seems to me that this isn’t exactly science. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it humbug.
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