Made You Look!!!

Advertisement on Fifth Avenue in New York City, 2010, Photo courtesy of Marvin Heiferman.

You’ve probably noticed, in recent years, that in order to attract shoppers’ attention retail establishments have been filling both exterior and interior display spaces with big, colorful, and evocative photographic images. At venues as diverse as Abercrombie & Fitch, CVS, and the big box stores, slickly produced lifestyle photographs—of rippling abs, shiny tomatoes, sexy digital things, and smiley senior citizens—are installed and replaced often in order to catch your eye and seduce you into purchasing what you may or may not really need. In exploring how photography changes everything, and specifically the way we shop, we invited Paco Underhill, an expert in shopping behavior and merchandising, to shed some historical light on how visual displays get us into stores and move us through them.

In his piece for click!, Underhill reminds us that whether you’re in the medina in Marrakesh or trekking through the Mall of America, eye-catching presentations of goods are critical to commercial culture’s success. Today, it’s changing photo printing technology that’s making it easier and more cost-effective for retailers to communicate with and ensnare us. During much of the twentieth century, photographic images played a central and simpler role in print advertising, introducing new products and helping differentiate one brand from the next. Now, photography’s powers can be exploited in more sophisticated and subtle ways, and on a more spectacular scale. We walk by, between, or through images that create an through-the-looking-glass kind of experience in which we literally start to feel part of a picture-perfect world that results from buying the right thing.

It may seem as if photographic images have already overtaken retail real estate. They’re in display windows and on packaging. Banners dangle in atriums and over escalators. Decals are stuck to freezer doors and on linoleum floors. And yet, there’s always room for more. A few weeks ago, a company called Automated Media Sevices announced the introduction of 3GTv Networks™, a retail game-changer they claim will not only speed up the installation of multiple television monitors in retail environments, but will finally allow media agencies to buy and monitor advertising time in stores, much like they do on network and cable TV. Forget the forlorn and poorly programmed flat screen you may have seen hovering over the vegetables and a supermarket or two. In tests at nine supermarkets in Maryland and Virginia this summer, monitors of various shapes and sizes, will be attached to shelves and suspended over the aisles. As AMS describes it on their website, “art and science converge as experts from the fields of micro-electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, television metrics and analysis, retail marketing services, and graphics design collaborate to improve the television-advertising platform to create the 21st century form of television.” For a more user friendly, cartoon version of their pitch, watch below. Happy shopping!

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