“Coercion” by Douglas Rushkoff

I’m not sure exactly how I discovered Douglas Rushkoff, might have been coast to coast am – but I’m glad I did. His book “Coercion: Why we listen to what “they” say” is a really good read; something one of my journalism professors could have easily made required reading. The book’s main focus is coercive techniques employed by businesses and a brief history on how marketing has evolved in the united states since the turn of the 20th century.


The first chapter deals with the hand-to-hand techniques used by retail businesses and even mattress door salesmen. Rushkoff devotes a large part of this chapter to the subtle techniques used by “Gap” in its day to day operations.

Young men are assigned to female customers, and young women to males. Each salesperson develops his or her own method of working sex appeal. “I kind of tilt my head to the side and stare at the guy’s butt.” one salesgirl bragged of her jeans-selling method. “Then, as soon as he notices I’m looking, I quickly glance away and pretend to be caught. I can hold my breath and get my face all flushed. It works every time.” (p.60-61)

Of course this isn’t news to anyone that has worked in the retail industry, but it’s with this kind of scientific inquiry Rushkoff uses that is fascinating to read. How car salesmen pretty much work off a script and really aren’t coming up with anything spontaneous or original when dealing with a customer. The disheveled, balding man attends to the couple on the lot, as he inspires a no nonsense attitude when selling cars. Single females will be assigned to the handsomest young salesman.  Nothing left to chance. This section ends with Rushkoff outlining the scripted theatric interplay that occurs while the sale is being closed. Manager and salesman go back and forth with the offer, counter-offer, and final offer. We’ve all been there before. The psychology that is intertwined is interesting too. Like in this passage where a salesman fails to reach an offer with the customer

Managers are instructed to feign annoyance with their salesmen for putting them in this position. The prospective buyer is made to feel that he is jeopardizing his new friend’s job. In essence, an Oedipal triangle has been set up with the customer, the dealer, and the manager playing the roles of child, mother, and father respectively. It’s up to the customer and dealer to dupe mean old Dad. (p.51)

The chapter I’m on now is all about the science of “atmospherics” which has been used for the last 50 years in malls. .

More extensive research into rhythm, pitch, and style of music has revealed that a careful selection of sounds can have a significant impact on consumption, production, and a variety of other measurable behaviors. Grocery shoppers respond best to Muzak that has a slower tempo, making a whopping thirty-eight percent more purchases when it is employed. Fast-food restaurants use Muzak that has a higher number of beats per minute to increase the rate at which patrons chew their food. Garish clothing sells better when loud club music is played. (p.96)

The fact that these statistics were even taken is fascinating, then again I am quite naive to the world of marketing and more inspired not to get involved in it the more I read on.These are all things we’ve noticed I’m sure. It’s just when you step back and look at the larger picture of how each situation is so discreetly set-up, it’s somewhat astounding. Or take this quote about accessing our olfactory sense.

One department store in Japan has gone so far as to utilize smells proven to induce a sense of dread – in their complaints department, of course. Intimidated through scent, an irate customer is more likely to accept the complaint officer’s explanations and leave the store without a refund.(p.101)

The covert smells and sounds is interesting to consider. Take a church for example. At church certain scripture and passages are repeated at almost every mass. The intonation the priest uses, the phrasing of the passage, the call and response, all serve to hypnotize church patrons in a way. It’s the rhythm and timing of each section that may makes you feel “holy or in touch with a higher power.” When in reality you could achieve a similar feeling at your house repeating mantras, irregardless of the content you’re putting forth, but the volume, pitch, and tonal qualities all just may interact with the brain in a way that gives you access to your “3rd eye or pineal gland”. I just think there isn’t enough widely accepted scientific study into 3rd eye or pineal gland properties. Not to mention the kind of mind altering properties that could be used in the incense at church. With over 5,000 world religions, you have to wonder why wouldn’t churches employ these marketing techniques to make sure their patrons stay loyal? Sinister maybe, but consider what’s at stake for a church institution that can’t retain large numbers of participants. It shrinks and withers away. Tax-exempt status is quite fruitful.


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