We like to think of ourselves as music fans, but in the eyes of those who exist solely to sell us stuff, we’re consumers, plain and simple. We would like to think that the music we love so dearly – the stuff that many of us feel has enriched our existence, if it didn’t downright save our lives – could never be employed solely in the name of crass consumerism. But we would be wrong.
We are, in fact, being targeted as consumers based on demographic pattern analysis, with aim of being manipulated out of our money.
At no time of the year is this fact made more dishearteningly plain than that time of orgyistic consumption spanning from Black Friday to Christmas. (Or New Year’s Day, perhaps.) Against your better judgment, you brave the bizarre driving patterns of the masses and make it to the shopping mall. Once inside, you are barraged with sounds, a wide and diverse array of them. It might simply be holiday music – the Great American Holiday Songbook, which, let’s face it, loses a bit of glamour every year you hear it dragged out and beat to death by folks who ought to have known better. Annoying, yes, but fairly innocuous, one would think.
Or maybe not.
The playlists you are treated to while blowing a disproportionate amount of your yearly income during the time of holiday fever are far from random in either creation or intent. In fact, teams of market analysts have been hired to assemble these insidious holiday sounds in hopes of helping you be more decisive with your credit card. And for “decisive,” read “impulsive.”
To wit, one of the businesses whose clients include many of the retail chain stores we visit at some point during this season is Mood Media, a company that describes itself on its website as “a leading in-store media specialist that uses a mix of music, visual and scent media to help its clients communicate with consumers with a view to driving incremental sales at the point-of-purchase.” The company boasts “more than 800 retail chains in more than 40 countries throughout North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.” Its clients include PetCo, McDonald’s and the Body Shop. In 2011, Mood Media purchased Muzak, which was then the leading commercial background music provider.
A similar corporation known as PlayNetwork writes this about itself on its home page: “Great brand stories transcend medium. The best ones become them. Nothing resonates like a story created through entertainment. Genuine personal connections are forged, true brand loyalty is inspired, and a cycle of commerce begins. PlayNetwork is dedicated to helping our client partners break through and deepen these bonds.” PlayNetwork claims among its clients the Levi Strauss Company.
This year, Macy’s department stores partnered with Clear Channel to launch mystyleradio. The disturbingly text messagelike brand name is a catch-all for a current pop hit-heavy playlist meant to capture “the marriage of music and fashion that has been at the cornerstone of pop culture for decades.”
Which means, in essence, Macy’s plays music during the holiday season that is meant to make you feel cool and hip and, by extension, spend more money in the pursuit of further hipness and coolness. Merry Christmas! And you’re welcome!
Depending on where you shop, you might hear some “traditional American values” stuff, be it Bing Crosby or contemporary country music or Christian pop artists. Or, on the other side of the shopping divide are holiday hip-hop tunes by the likes of Kanye West and Blackalicious. (Hearing Kanye might be useful when considering taking the plunge for, say, a pair of $150-plus sneakers with the name of an incredibly overpaid NBA athlete on them. Again, you’re welcome!)
Yes, folks, things have gotten very strange out there. Once, loving a band whose albums arrived in your life like bottled messages washing up on a barren shore made you feel part of something bigger than yourself. These bands and their music were a test for echo, in a sense – they let you know you were not alone, perhaps made you feel less like an outcast if you saw yourself as one.
Now, that music is being pored over by market analysis executives who are paid to program it in such an order as to urge your subconscious purchase of “stuff.”
To quote the great John Lydon, from the final Sex Pistols concert nearly 40 years ago: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been ripped off”?