Brandwashed at Whole Foods
Martin Lindstrom’s new book, Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, explores in part how supermarkets persuade consumers to spend more than they intend to on an average shopping trip. But he particularly fixates on Whole Foods.
“Without a shadow of doubt, Whole Foods leads the pack in consumer priming,” the best-selling author of Buyulogy wrote in an article he penned for Fast Company, referring to overall retailers.
In particular, he focused on “symbolics” — or unconscious suggestions — in the store experience that call out the “freshness” of offerings. The following are a few examples he found:
Fresh-cut flowers: Stacks of flowers greet shoppers as they enter a Whole Foods and they sit among “the freshest, most perishable objects on earth.” With the flowers priming shoppers to think of freshness, “we continue to carry that association, albeit subconsciously, with us as we shop.”
Chalk boards: Mimicking the tradition of European marketplaces, chalk boards show prices of flowers, fruits and vegetables. He writes in another article he penned for The Wall Street Journal, “It’s as if the farmer or grower had unloaded his produce (chalk and slate boards in hand), then hopped back in his flatbed truck and motored back to the country” with the chalk board suggesting that prices change daily like a local market. But, he asserts, most of the produce was flown in days ago with prices set by headquarters.
Ice/mistiness: Although items such as hummus and cucumbers don’t need to be covered in chipped ice, Whole Foods does it to convey the sense of “freshness and purity.” In the same vein, supermarkets overall tend to sprinkle select vegetables with water. The author writes in the Journal, “Like ice displays, those drops serve as a symbol, albeit a bogus one, of freshness and purity.”
Pictures of fruit: Mr. Lindstrom points to how grocers plaster their juice containers with as many pictures of fresh fruit as they can in order to create the sense that it’s coming off the vine, even though it tends to come from concentrate and is flown in from overseas.
Cardboard boxes: Even though produce can be easily placed in bins, Mr. Lindstrom attests in Fast Company that Whole Foods uses cardboard boxes “for that rustic, aw-shucks touch. In other words, it’s a symbolic to reinforce the idea of old-time simplicity.”
He concludes in Fast Company: “So the next time you happen to grab your wallet to go shopping, don’t be fooled: retailers for better or for worse, are the masters of seduction and priming — brandwashing us to believe in perception rather than reality.”
- Brandwashed – Random House
- How Whole Foods “Primes” You To Shop – Fast Company
- Selling Illusions of Cleanliness – The Wall Street Journal
- ‘Brandwashed’: Self-Referential Expose Of Marketing Tactics – MediaPost Marketing Daily
Discussion Questions: Is “brandwashing” much ado about very little? Which of the “symbolics” — or unconscious suggestions — mentioned in the article do you think are most successful in motivating consumers to spend? What retailers do you think are most successful in creating environments where consumers want to spend?