In 1956 in Minnesota, Austrian architect Victor Gruen oversaw the construction of the first indoor climate-controlled shopping mall. These malls, now found around the globe, have led to a phenomenon known as the ‘Gruen transfer,’ where shoppers are disorientated into buying more, in spaces conscientiously designed to confuse and overwhelm.

There is a significant distinction between the intense manipulation used by totalists and this more modest attempt to undermine critical thinking, but we should be wary of any attempt at hidden influence, no matter how banal.

From the motivational research of the 1950s – so brilliantly described in Vance Packard’s Hidden Persuaders – to the state-of-the-art brain scanners used to determine our preferences as consumers, there has been a systematic assault on our emotions to make us buy, and buy, and buy.

Malls, and the stores inside them, use some fairly determined tricks to keep us confused and buying. Muzak and scents are piped in, exits may be deliberately concealed, the layout is intended to keep the punter following a circuitous path and lighting dims from the overbright buzz of fluorescent strip lights to softly lit areas where the prices are highest. A great deal of thought has gone into the modern mall.

So, the next time you go to the mall, see if you can limit yourself to the articles on your shopping list. If not, you can blame Victor Gruen.

What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Have you read Jon’s new book? Do you have a story about being influenced in the marketplace that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!