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I can’t shop anymore. My ears are killing me.

You’ve probably noticed that in the past 10 years, music has gotten louder and louder everywhere you go.

Oh hell, everything has gotten louder and more obnoxious, but if I don’t focus, I’ll lose track of my point, so I’m going to focus on the cacophony of noises we are bombarded with when we shop, particularly in stores that want to drive us out.

This phenomenon is insidious, and quite deliberate. You’re not wrong if you feel like you’re being run out of stores with goodies on shelves targeted to 13 year olds. You are.

Apparently, according to marketing gurus, music is being deliberately targeted in stores to its desired age group, and it should come as no surprise that you and I are not it. If you go into almost any mall in America, you will immediately hear what I mean. Your ears start to bleed when you’re paying for that $48 rag—ooops, I mean t-shirt—your child or grandchild simply has to have. The kid, of course, does not want to be seen with you, and so the store blasts music that splits your head open until you’re forced to leave. Handily, your sanity has a time limit precisely aligned with how long it takes you to swipe a credit card and sign on the dotted line; after that, you and your little ingrate can leave, thanks for the money, don’t dawdle on your way out.

About 10 years ago, marketers starting making use of age-related statistics being supplied to them by various focus groups. Even the U.S. Census Bureau supplies marketers with valuable demographic information, leading nowadays to what’s called demographic segmentation, which leads to 18 different types of toothpaste on the shelves at Target, it turns out. Each type of toothpaste is being targeted, no pun intended, to different segments of the buying population, hence the explosion of choices. You’re not going crazy—there really are too many products nowadays, all presumably with the have it YOUR way generation in mind.

Psychographic segmentation, which sounds vaguely pornographic, is what marketing Santa Clauses rely on to shimmy down your particular chimney. Raw numbers aren’t enough anymore. Now they want to know your:

  • Interests
  • Activities
  • Opinions
  • Behavioral patterns
  • Habits
  • Lifestyle
  • Hobbies

This is me, when I’m shopping

In other words, your personality or lifestyle determines how they target you. This gets creepy, because it means that marketers nowadays are stalking you. The best, easiest place to do that is online, but don’t overestimate how much time they spend looking at your Facebook page. Instead, they form their biased opinions about you simply from shoving you into a cohort based on statistics they’ve picked up from the U.S. Census Bureau, and deciding, well, you’re an over-50, overweight white woman, that means you want [no need to think for yourself, they can fill in this blank for you].

Thank god I don’t have to determine what would make me happy anymore! I’ve got 30 year-old marketers I’ve never met to do it for me, based on their perception of my needs, which are based on their personal prejudices about their mothers and all women they have ever seen on TV and in movies!

(Does anyone else see the fly in this bottle of snake oil, or am I whistling my tune alone in the dark here?)

Here’s a comment from someone on a forum. The initial question was, “Is it insensitive for stores to blast loud Christmas music?” This commentator’s response is:

I hate going to Hot Topic because of their music. I have actually left the store after telling the clerk that I couldn’t handle the music anymore. The store is geared toward teens and young people, but these people are spending their parents’ money. Some respect should be given to the parent.

I think some respect should be given to the parent’s ears and sanity, as well as our pocketbooks. In this, marketers are cutting off their noses to spite their face, because, even though your ungrateful spoiled child doesn’t want to be seen with you, and even if you aren’t the store’s target demographic, the fact remains that if they played music you could tolerate—not “listen to,” merely tolerate—you’d be inclined to spend much more money in that store. This is the “you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar” theory mentioned by Aristotle back when the Greeks were first coming up with theories.

This fact is based on simple logic. No matter how much my kid hates being seen with me, the fact is, if s/he’s 13, s/he doesn’t have her own money, not enough to be able to afford this over-priced garbage being sold nowadays (rags masquerading as clothes spring to mind). That means that if you seriously want me to spend real money, reconsider the idea that somehow I myself am verboten. You want my money, cater a little bit to me, not to my child, who is not the boss of me, by the way.

Music-as-torture works in reverse, too. Crafty older business owners are getting some of their own back, and have been heard to crank Frank (Sinatra) over parking lot speakers, effectively running off teenagers whose parents have told them not to come home before midnight.


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