Imaginary trip back in time, grocery version - Yankee 2.0
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Imaginary trip back in time, grocery version

One of my many part-time jobs involves doing market research in retail stores. I lurk in aisles observing shopper behavior and then ask people questions about things they looked at on the shelves. I love this job (the pay is great, there's no one breathing down my neck, and I like hearing what people say about their shopping habits). I was working on a project in a grocery store today, and it was pretty slow, which gave me time to think. And I stopped for a minute and loooked around at all the advertising -- the packaging, the stickers, the flyers, the end caps -- there are so many ads designed to lure us to buy, buy, buy (and the work that I do as a market researcher is geared towards helping the advertisers be more effective with their work). So many people were just wandering and looking lost -- looking for guidance from the packaging and displays.

I imagined how different shopping must have been back in "the old days" when you just bought flour or oil or string and butcher paper, rather than being faced with shelf after shelf of options for the things you actually need, not to mention stuff no one needs but we wind up buying because the marketers are so good at what they do.

I love to read novels set in the late 19th and early 20th century, and shopping is described so differently in that era. Shoppers would walk into the general store with a little list and the grocer would measure out the provisions needed and bundle them up, probably sending a shop boy to carry them home.If the shopper needed guidance, she (or he) would ask the grocer, who was a trusted source of advice. "Will castor oil help little Timmy's colic?" was more apt to be a question (at least in my novels), unlike today's shopper's silent inner questioning of "should I get fat free, reduced fat, air spun, or splenda ice cream?"

A lot of things in our modern lives are fantastic achievements, especially in domestic time saving devices, but the idea of a less commercial life that is less saturated by advertisements is very appealing.



Cheryl said:

My guess is the authors of your novels didn't feel mentioning the advertising was organic to the plot. I've read modern novels that mention making purchases without mentioning advertising encountered. As a source of what it was like in bygone days, I'm afraid that's an inaccurate source. There absolutely were adverts, and consumers were often bombarded with them which caused some states to draft advertising laws as early (to my knowledge) as the 1860s. The usual falsehoods were claims that purchasing would save the family business and the family from financial ruin, even when they were in the black, and the most common was a promise of improved health, ailments cured, and even hair tonics that promised to remove gray hair, if only it would be used long enough. The history of advertising is an interesting topic to read about... in the non-fiction section. :)

June 20, 2011 8:23 PM

haverwench said:

True, but wasn't the advertising less likely to be on store shelves and more likely to be in newspapers and magazines?  There was, of course, no radio, no television, and no Internet--so there are at any rate several channels through which advertising reaches people today that weren't around then.  So pervasive as the ads may have been, I don't see how they could be quite as omnipresent as they are today.

June 29, 2011 6:04 PM

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