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Stephen Smith: From American Public Media, this is an American RadioWorks documentary.

Kathy Clark: If it's a really good deal, and I like it and it fits, then I have a terrible time not buying it.

Smith: And since we all buy stuff, there are a lot of people trying to figure out what we'll buy.

Joe Duffy: What is the brand, what is it all about, why does it mean so much to the audience? How can we attract more people?

Smith: Attract more customers, more attention, or for some kids online, maybe attracting more friends.

Lily Salvio-Shaker: I'm making sure I look good in every picture I have up.

Smith: In the coming hour, Design of Desire, part of the Consumed series from American Public Media. First, this news.


Part 1

Smith: Hi, this is Stephen Smith and we are at Widmer's Grocery Store, a little corner store in St. Paul, Minnesota, where I come to get milk and eggs and hamburger.

Smith: You know, I'm only going to get half a dozen eggs, 'cause I know I'm not going to need that many. Half dozen eggs? Ninety-nine cents.

Cashier: Would you like a bag?

Smith: Uh, yes, plastic. Thank you.

Cashier: Thank you.

Smith: Like most Americans, I don't raise my own food. I couldn't fit a cow in my backyard, and I wouldn't know how to raise chickens if I had to. So like virtually all of us, to get what I need, I come to the store, I buy it. Okay, now we've come to a little corner antique store in St. Paul that I visit pretty often. And this is a place filled with things that I want, but definitely not a lot of things that I need. I don't have to have these things to survive. One of the parts of the store I like best is this display of antique telephones. Over here is something I've really been looking at. This is a 1960's three-slot payphone, the kind with a slot for the nickel, the dime, and the quarter at the top. I don't know why I want this thing, but I know it makes a lovely sound when you drop the coins in. I know that it's got a great sounding dial. It looks cool, it's black. It would look great on the wall, but it's 250 dollars. Now, I want this coin phone. I don't need a pay phone in my house! Why do I want it?

From American Public Media, this is an American RadioWorks documentary called Design of Desire. There's new research that's lending insight into why we want stuff that we don't need. It also explains why some people are what are called tightwads, while other people are spendthrifts. Our hour today is about buying and selling. About why we buy, how designers and marketers influence what we buy, and how individuals are using market ideas, tricks, and tools to market themselves. To start us off, Chris Julin is going to take a look at what happens in our brains as we shop.

Chris Julin: It's a sunny weekday morning in Pittsburgh. The stores are just opening in a neighborhood called Shadyside. Scott Rick lives a short walk from here.

Scott Rick: We're here on Walnut Street.

Julin: Scott Rick's wearing blue jeans and a striped polo shirt. He's not interested in the J. Crew or the Banana Republic. His favorite shop on Walnut Street is the Apple computer store. He bought an iPod here a while back. But today he's looking at a wall full of really big flat-screen computer monitors.

Rick: I'm imagining how great it would be to have a giant screen like this.

Julin: His eyes linger on 30-inch screen that costs a couple thousand dollars.

Rick: Yeah, I'm really craving one. And if I leave, it's like I'm losing the screen. I'm losing all that enjoyment. It's painful to walk away from all the happiness that a big screen offers.

Julin: And if you bought that, would it make you happy?

Rick: Well, the research says no, not for more than a week or so. But it's hard to believe that when you're staring at all those inches.

Julin: Scott Rick knows what the research says about shopping because he does some of the research. He just got his PhD from Carnegie Mellon University here in Pittsburgh. He's part of a growing field called neuroeconomics. It's part economics, and part psychology. He studies how people make choices.

New research like Scott Rick's is displacing some traditional ideas about economics. Those ideas that go all the way back to the founders of modern economics - back to people like Adam Smith in the 18th century. According to this classical economic theory, a consumer pays no attention to feelings. A consumer is perfectly rational. According to classical economics, a consumer is Homo Economicus, better known as Economic Man.

Economic Man: Don't be afraid kids, you're safe now.

Kids: Economic Man!

Julin: No, no, no. That's not how it really works. Economic Man can't save you from a burning building. And he doesn't wear tights.

Economic Man: I prefer a gray suit.

Julin: I see that. And sensible, horn-rimmed glasses.

Economic Man: Thank you.

Julin: No problem. What Economic Man can do is make decisions.

Economic Man: That's 114, 116.

Julin: When Economic Man is deciding whether to buy something he uses mathematics and logic.

Economic Man: If I get the smaller one…

Julin: He calculates what he could buy today with that money.

Economic Man: $199.99 plus tax.

Julin: And he weighs that against what he could buy some other day.

Economic Man: If I only eat oatmeal…

Julin: If it's in his long-term self-interest to buy the thing today, he buys it.

Economic Man: I'll take it.

Julin: According to classical economic theory, human beings operate just like Economic Man.

Rick: We look at the price of the good, and we ask ourselves, "Well, what else can we get with this money, what's the next best thing we could buy? That's its so-called opportunity cost. And if the pleasure we expect from buying the good exceeds the pleasure we could get elsewhere, then we buy it. So we're just sort of weighing pleasure today versus pleasure tomorrow. That's the way it should be according to economics: pleasure today, pleasure tomorrow.

Julin: In recent years, researchers like Scott Rick have tossed aside Economic Man. Most economists now say that people use their emotions as well as their math skills when they're deciding what to buy.

Rick: And you have to in order to make it. Otherwise you'd be standing, staring at the Cheerios box for hours thinking of what else you could use the four dollars on.

Julin: Scott Rick says we just don't have that kind of raw, computational power.

Rick: "It's very difficult to think of all the other things you could buy with that money. So we rely on simpler stuff like how much would it hurt me to pay for it? Is it on sale, like, "Oh, it's less than it was." These are simplifying things that we rely on.

Julin: Economists have a bunch of ways to show that you use your gut as much as your head when you make choices. One way is for an experimenter to bring a couple of subjects into a lab and play something called the Ultimatum Game.

Announcer: It's the Utimatum Game!

Host: Here are the rules. There's $10 to split between the two of you. But, Player 1 decides how to split that $10.

Julin: Any split's okay. Player Number One could offer a dollar to Player Number Two and keep the rest. Or Player Number One could split the ten dollars evenly - five bucks for each player. But here's the catch.

Host: Player Two has to decide whether to accept or reject that offer. If Player Two accepts, both get the money. However, if Player Two rejects the offer, no one gets any money.

Julin: Now, if we were perfectly rational creatures, the game would be easy to figure out. Player Number One could offer Player Number Two one penny and Player Number Two would accept it.

Host: Player Two, here's your offer.

Julin: One penny's better than zero. A perfectly rational economic animal would have no trouble with that decision.

Player Two: I guess I'll take it.

Julin: But real people don't react that way. Most people get mad if Player Number One offers them only a penny. In fact, most people get mad if Player Number One offers them one dollar and keeps nine.

Player Two: One dollar? No way!

Julin: So they end up with zero dollars instead of one. That's an emotional choice, not a rational choice.

And studies show that emotions play a role every time you choose to buy something. Or chose not to buy something. Scott Rick and his fellow researchers have used brain scans to find out what parts of the brain are most active when people shop. They found that shopping is a dance between pleasure and pain.

Let's go back to Walnut Street with Scott Rick. Now he's in a card and gift shop. It's full of row upon row of goofy stuff. Soap in the shape of the president's head, and Pittsburgh Steelers license plate holders. Scott Rick picks up a jar full of tiles with writing on them.

Rick: Dictionary of buzzwords in a jar - Jargon. That's great. Love to have that in the apartment. Homer in a bath towel. That's great. Sort of a topless Homer Simpson with a little bath towel around his lower region and slippers. It's very cute. I'd love to have that.

Julin: Scott Rick knows what's happening in his brain right now. His nucleus accumbens is active. He and his fellow researchers examined brain scans of people while they played a shopping game. The shoppers looked at pictures of designer chocolates and books and computer gizmos, and their nucleus accumbens lit up on the brain scan. That's the same part of the brain that lights up when people eat something delicious or shoot up heroin. It's a small structure deep within the brain, and it's one of the brain's pleasure centers. And Scott Rick is feeling pleasure at the thought of owning a stuffed Homer Simpson.

Then he turns it over to look at the price tag.

Rick: Twenty-eight dollars. That seems high for Homer in a bath towel. Put that back.

Julin: And now a different part of his brain has kicked in, according to his research. It's called the insula. It's another small region located deep in the brain. But the insula is one of the brain's pain centers. The researchers found this region lit up on brain scans when people were faced with a price that's higher than they're willing to pay.

So, in a sense, it's pleasant to shop, but it hurts to pay. But not everyone feels the same amount of pain when they reach for their wallet. And, of course, people get varying amounts of pleasure from shopping. We're all hardwired a little differently.

On one end of the scale you find people who feel a lot of pain when they buy things. They usually don't like to shop. Scott Rick and his fellow researchers have a scientific name for those folks.

Rick: Tightwads.

Julin: On the other end of the scale you find people who don't feel much pain when they buy things. They tend to enjoy shopping and buying. And they have a fancy name, too.

Rick: Spendthrifts.

Julin: Scott Rick and his fellow researchers developed a Spendthrift-Tightwad survey. It puts people on a continuum. Thousands of people have filled out the survey online. Let's meet some of them. See if you can guess which kind of shoppers these first two people are.

Kathy Clark and Marilyn Bamford are eating lunch and hanging out in Kathy's kitchen. There's quite a bit of laughing and there's lots of talking about politics, and about gardening, about kids and grandkids. And about clothes.

Kathy Clark: I mean, you can't have a winter coat and summer coat.

Julin: Kathy and Marilyn have been friends for 30 years - ever since their doctor-husbands took jobs at the same medical clinic in Duluth, Minnesota. They've both been social workers. Kathy also taught at a university. Marilyn is a licensed therapist. A couple times a year they make a three-hour road trip to Minneapolis to shop at the Mall of America.

This is Nordstrom Rack, one of their favorite stops. Kathy and Marilyn like this store because it's packed with designer labels, but everything's on sale.

Clark: Oohey, look at this!

Julin: That's a particularly strong draw for Kathy. Marilyn says she'll pay full price if she finds something she likes. But Kathy says she almost never buys clothing at full price. And today, after only 45 minutes of shopping she's picked up an armload of bargains.

Clark: Hey can I see those two Keenes up there? I just want to see what sizes they are.

Julin: She's still waffling about a funky pair of sky blue walking shoes. And then she decides to get them.

Clark: I've never had blue shoes!

Julin: And she's especially psyched about a pair of purple, cotton pants.

Clark: They were cute, and they will cost me, like, eight bucks.

Julin: Kathy and Marilyn like to shop. They enjoy buying things. Kathy loves to find a bargain. So where would you put them on the Spendthrift-Tightwad scale?

When they took Scott Rick's survey, they both scored as borderline spendthrifts. But they're close enough to the middle that the researchers call them "unconflicted." Here's how the scale works.

Everyone has a little buyer's remorse now and then. But some people have a lot of it. George Loewenstein explains it this way. He's a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon, and he worked with Scott Rick on the Spendthrift-Tightwad scale. Picture a spendthrift and a tightwad walking through a store. They each spot a cool shirt.

Loewenstein: So the spendthrift will see the shirt - "Oh, cool shirt" - and they'll buy it, and maybe they shouldn't have bought it because they're already in debt. The tightwad will see the cool shirt and probably they should buy it because they don't have any credit card debt, they have plenty of savings, and probably their wardrobe isn't very attractive. They should buy it, and they know that they should buy, and they don't buy it because it's too painful to part with the money.

Julin: Pretty much everyone leans toward being a tightwad or a spendthrift. But the majority of people are close enough to the middle that they're fairly content with how much money they spend. According to the survey results, about one out of five people is out on the tightwad end of the scale. Another one of five is out on the spendthrift side of the scale. So two out of five people are unhappy about their shopping.

George Loewenstein says these differences between people seem to be rooted in biology, but he can't be sure yet.

Loewenstein: People do tell us that they believe that they knew pretty early on that they were a tightwad or a spendthrift. So it does suggest that these individual differences may start quite early. They may exist when you're born, for all we know.

Julin: So let's head back to Kathy Clark's house. Remember, she's right on the line between being unconflicted and being a spendthrift.

It's been a couple weeks since the shopping trip to the Mall of America, and she's sitting at the kitchen table having a Diet Coke. She just happens to be wearing her new blue shoes and her eight-dollar purple pants. She came back from the mall with bags of clothes, but, as usual, she got everything on sale. She says she doesn't have any regrets about what she bought. And she doesn't think of herself as a spendthrift.

Clark: I might end up on the spendthrift side but it's got to be at least 50 percent off. And if it's a really good deal, and I like it and it fits, then I have a terrible time NOT buying it.

Julin: There's a small bowl of price tags sitting on the table. Kathy Clark fishes one of them out.

Clark: So this was a great dress. This was a brown velvet dress to wear at Christmas parties and stuff. So, from 398 to 98. That was a good deal.

Julin: These are her bargain hunting trophies. She digs out her all-time favorite. If Kathy Clark were a big-game hunter, this one would be mounted over the fireplace.

Clark: This was the best. I was at TJ Maxx. And I saw this skirt, and I'd seen somebody wearing a skirt kind of like this. It was 25 percent off the last markdown price, so it obviously had been marked down a number of times. So I bought it. Then when I get home, I find the original TJ Maxx price, which was 898 dollars. And I got this skirt for $37.50.

Rick: That's the perfect example of people leaning spendthrift focusing on what they save instead of what they spend.

Julin: That's Scott Rick again, the guy who put together the Spendthrift-Tightwad scale. He says Kathy Clark's thinking like spendthrift. Imagine she's out shopping and she comes across an umbrella that's marked down 58 percent.

Rick: Whereas she's likely to say, "Oh, it's 58 percent off," a tightwad would say, "Oh, well it's still 42 percent on." People who lean spendthrift tend to think about how much they're saving, so they definitely enjoy getting those bargains. Tightwads tend to think about still about how much they're spending, rather than saving.

Julin: Let's go back to Kathy Clark's house again, because her husband Terry has just come into the kitchen. Terry Clark also took Scott Rick's survey. Terry's a borderline tightwad.

Researchers say these mixed shopping marriages can be tough. Extreme spendthrifts and tightwads have a tendency to get cranky with one another. But neither of the Clarks is extreme - they're both on the borderlines, and they don't seem to clash. In fact, Terry smiles at Kathy and tells her she's a "good shopper."

Terry Clark: It's not that you spend an outrageous amount of money, it's just that you do collect a lot of bargains. Things go from the store, to here, then to Goodwill. (laughs)

Julin: Terry Clark spent decades as a doctor. Now he's a medical director at a hospital. He has some health problems, so he does most of his shopping online these days. He says can't spend hours on his feet trolling through a mall looking for bargains. But then again, he never did. He's never wanted to make a day of shopping.

Terry Clark: Good lord, never make a day of it. An hour is beyond my limit now for physical reasons, and it was beyond my limits for psychological reasons before because I just couldn't - I'm not that interested.

Julin: Terry Clark says he wears the same clothes for years, and he only buys new duds when he absolutely has to. But he says he can buy things like computers without feeling pain.

Terry Clark: My shopping role here is the big stuff. Like, you know, cars, tires, furnace, plumbing.

Julin: That's not surprising to Scott Rick, the researcher. Tightwads don't have so much trouble buying durable goods - stuff that stays around, like cars and plumbing. But tightwads do tend to have trouble spending money on things like taxi cabs and eating in restaurants.

Rick: I mean you pay for a taxi ride, after it's been consumed. You pay for a restaurant meal after it's been consumed. When you fork over the money there's nothing you can expect to receive in the future, and tightwads find these things very painful. The differences go away when the goods are investments like when you pay money for a washer and dryer you typically expect to receive a lot of years of use out of it, and so tightwads sort of catch up with spendthrifts when it comes to like, durables, investments.

Julin: So Terry Clark is just what the researchers expect. He's a typical borderline tightwad. He can comfortably buy cars and computers, but he doesn't like buying more clothing than he thinks he needs.

Terry and Kathy Clark are typical in another way, too. He, the guy, leans towards being a tightwad, and she, the gal, is more of a spendthrift. When Scott Rick and his fellow researchers tallied thousands of surveys they found men much more likely to be tightwads, and women much more likely to be spendthrifts.

Of course there are many exceptions. Rosemary Williams is one of them. She's a borderline tightwad. But she seems to be changing, at least a little.

Rosemary Williams: So we're at the Super Target near my house, which I visit way more often than I probably should.

Julin: When Rosemary Williams talks about shopping, this is what she usually means. Day to day stuff at Target. She doesn't buy a lot of clothing.

Williams: I don't spend a lot of time shopping for myself, but I will allow myself to go out and shop for myself. Maybe it's like (laughs)…That sounds like I'm wound, like I'm wound so tight. (laughs)

Julin: But last year she took a crash course in self-indulgence. She started taking herself to the Mall of America several times a week.

Rosemary Williams moved to Minnesota from New York City a couple years ago. She's an artist, and she's a professor of new media. Being something of an anti-shopper, she found herself sort of horrified by the Mall of America. Here in her new hometown was the biggest retail space in the country. But she was fascinated, too. And she got an idea for an art installation.

Williams: I wanted to make a giant wall out of shopping bags from the Mall of America.

Julin: She decided to get a shopping bag from every store. But it turned out the stores wouldn't give away their bags. She really wanted those bags.

Williams: I started to buy things, thinking I'll buy something in each store, get the bags, and then I'll return them the next visit, buy more stuff, get more bags.

Julin: The shopping frenzy began. She made 26 trips to the Mall of America over the space of about 10 weeks. After each trip she put together a podcast of her adventures. Each podcast episode is about an hour long, so we put together a condensed version of the series.

Williams: You're listening to Rosemary Goes to the Mall. This thing cost 18 dollars, which is a lot of money. Cute little silver bracelet. This is really cool. So I kind of like it - it's only 20 dollars. Pink, floral design on it. I'm getting much more comfortable with these more expensive purchases. This is on sale for 60. Natural oceanic clay ionic mask. I can't help but buy this image of an elephant balancing on a beach ball. And here I am, whipping out my credit card. And there's this men's watch, which I think is really nice. So damn expensive, but I figure, well what the heck? It's 260 dollars. And they're half price. I kind of like this. Portable auto navigation systems. And I definitely need one. Gosh, these are really,really expensive, but they sure are useful. I find myself convincing myself that this is a really good idea. I dig it. I dig it, I dig it.

Julin: She bought something at more than 300 stores.

Williams: And I spent over 15,000 dollars. I returned most of that, but there was definitely a little bit of a gap. I don't think my husband even knows exactly. You could go to the web site and you could add it all up because I put down how much I spent and how much I returned. I added it all up and went "huh?"

Julin: You're welcome to go to Rosemary Williams' Web site and do the math. In case you don't have the time, we did it for you. She kept almost 3,000 dollars worth of stuff.

But that's over now. She's only been to the Mall of America a few times in the past year. She's mostly back to her old, Super Target self. But not quite.

Williams: In some ways it kind of freed my inner shopper. As small and pathetic as that inner shopper is, it did get freed in that process.

Julin: It's not clear how much we can change our inner shoppers. Scott Rick would like to change his. He scores toward the spendthrift end of the scale, and he's trying to rein in his own spending. But there was that ukulele he bought a while ago on a whim. And he goes out to eat far more often than he thinks he really ought to. Researchers haven't yet studied whether people can move along the Spendthrift-Tightwad scale.

Rick: It's a good question and it's also an open one. My intuition is that this is a pretty stable tendency.

Julin: In other words, he doesn't think you can change very much. In order to find out, researchers will have to do a longitudinal study. That means they'll have to follow people for years to see how their spending changes as they age.

Rick: Scott Rick says that'll be part of someone else's PhD dissertation.

Smith: This is Design of Desire, an American RadioWorks documentary, part of the Consumed series from American Public Media. I'm Stephen Smith.

After listening to that story I had a couple more questions for Scott Rick. So I called him up at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. I wanted to know about this 50-year-old pay phone that I was looking at in that antique store. It's 250 bucks, and while I really want it, I don't need it. So will that pay phone make me happy?

Rick: Chances are it will not, at least not for very long. These are difficult choices and you often only learn whether or not whether these purchasing decisions are right or wrong in retrospect.

Smith: And Scott Rick told me something else. He said I might end up with the phone even if I'm a tightwad. He says my decision will be based on more than how much it hurts me to pay.

Rick: I mean, social psychologists would want to know a lot more about the situation, like what kind of music was playing in the store? What was the exact format of the price stickers?

Smith: After a quick break, we'll hear about some of those factors. How do designers decide what the price stickers should look like, and what music should play in the store? And what about you? Are you a tightwad or a spendthrift?

You can take a survey to find out at our Web site, AmericanRadioWorks.org. While you're there, you can download this and other American RadioWorks programs, sign up for our podcast, and probably even find a link where you can buy stuff. That's at AmericanRadioWorks.org.

Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Our program continues in just a moment, from American Public Media.


Part 2

Smith: This is Design of Desire, a documentary about buying and selling, about wants and needs. I'm Stephen Smith.

While we might have a biological proclivity to shop and buy in a particular way, there are untold numbers of professionals out there working very hard to tempt us into buying more. An invisible army of designers is fretting over how you like the lighting, the music, the color scheme, even the scent of their stores. We asked Ochen Kaylan, American RadioWorks' Web producer and resident designer to take us behind the curtain.

Ochen Kaylan: If you listen to a couple of 15-year-olds shopping, it doesn't exactly sound like brain science.

Emily: You don't like it? Why don't you like it?

Male friend: Kind of looks like wallpaper

Emily: What? I think it's cute. Isn't it?

Kaylan: Actually he's right. It does look a little like wallpaper. They argue about the dress for a few more seconds, and then she puts it back on the sales rack.

Emily: My name is Emily, I'm 15. We're at the Mall of America.

Kaylan: Emily's hangout just happens to be the most visited shopping mall in the world. There are more than 500 stores here, most of which Emily just ignores. There are a few that she absolutely hates.

Emily: I would never shop there! Never!

Kaylan: But what's interesting are which ones she likes and why:

Emily: My favorite store is Hollister.

Kaylan: Which is a clothing store for teens.

Emily: It's very beachy-like. And when you go in, the music's pretty loud. It's actually kind of dark in there. There's just like a few lights on.

Kaylan: Hollister's really different from most stores. From the outside, you can't see into the store at all. What you see instead sort of looks like a front porch of a cabana on the beach. There are deck chairs, surfboards. And a really strong bitter citrus smell.

Emily: You can always like smell it when you're walking by. They spray perfume all the time.

Kaylan: Do you like how it smells?

Emily: Yeah, I like it.

Kaylan: Let's go in.

Emily: Alright.(loud music)

Kaylan: So it is really dark in here.

Emily: Yeah.

Kaylan: I've never been to a store this dark.

Emily: Yeah, it is actually pretty dark. But I think it's fine. I think the first time I was in here, I thought it was really different. I was like, "I can't even see anything." But you get used to it. They have lights on the clothes, so it's fine.

Kaylan: So you'd think that this store is doing everything wrong. The music is so loud that you can't talk, it's so dark you can't see where you're going, the smell is so strong that you end up smelling it on your clothes for hours - you'd think this would only drive customers away. But not so. Hollister does about 1.4 billion dollars in annual sales for its parent company Abercrombie and Fitch. And today, this store full of kids, all of whom look about Emily's age.

Kaylan: It's packed.

Joe Duffy: They're doing really well. It's amazing.

Kaylan: I've brought Joe Duffy here to Hollister. In the design world, Joe is a pretty big name. His company, Duffy and Partners, has done high-profile branding work for Coca Cola, for Starbucks, Jim Beam. He even branded the Bahamas, you know, the country. Well, I wanted him to help me understand why Hollister appeals to Emily:

Duffy: It's definitely setting the mood, and it's about expressing the brand's personality. You know, the fact that it is individualistic, having a good time, not just buying and selling, but creating the kind of ambience that kids obviously find appealing.

Kaylan: And that ambiance often has nothing to do with the actual product. In the middle of Hollister, there's this giant television screen. It's a webcam of surfers in California. It doesn't advertise specials. There's no Hollister logo or anything. Just surfers.

Duffy: It's really the ultimate escape, and I think it puts people in the mood of saying, "You know what? I love this experience, I love this idea, I love the mindset. I'm gonna buy something and you know, make it a part of my life."

Kaylan: And a part of your life quite literally. Emily buys the clothes, she wears the perfume. And actually during our shopping trip, a sort of interesting thing happens. The manager comes up to Emily.

Saleswoman: You guys finding everything alright?

Emily: Yeah, thank you.

Saleswoman: You guys from around here?

Emily: Yeah.

Saleswoman: How old are you?

Emily: I'm 15.

Saleswoman: 15, aw, okay. (laughs) Let me know if you need any help.

Male friend: (laughs) You were getting scouted!

Kaylan: That's right. She was getting scouted. Emily looks so much the part of Hollister she could work here. At least the manager thinks so. But Emily's a little too young.

However, it is a revealing moment. Emily and Hollister have found each other. It's not just about cute clothes. It's about being part of a group, your tribe, the people who care about the things that you care about, who think about the things that you think about. And to solidify your place in the tribe, you buy a shirt that, in this case, says Hollister across the front. Well, creating the look and feel, creating that tribe - that's what branding is about.

Now, if you're a Mac fan, you're here, in the middle of an Apple store, because Apple gets it. They get that technology can be beautiful and easy to use. You subscribe to that belief, their belief, and you buy into Apple's brand.

If you like high-end cooking and entertaining, Williams-Sonoma draws you in with its gleaming copper pots and very subtle vanilla scent and says, "Yes, we care about the things you care about."

If you like furniture that's modern but affordable, you come here.

Television: Welcome to Ikea

Kaylan: And if you think Ikea gets it, you're much more likely to go out of your way to eat at the Ikea restaurant, or sport an Ikea backpack, and become part of the Ikea tribe.

Joe Duffy says this is actually a massive change in the marketing world. It's becoming easier and easier to ignore and even avoid ads, so they have to speak to you in other ways.

Duffy: Marketers today are putting a much larger percentage of their marketing dollars into the store environment where people can really feel the brand and they don't look upon it as this interruption into their lives when they're watching a television show and what not.

Kaylan: And that rings true in my life. I mute the television during the commercials, and when I want to know which laundry detergent works the best, I just Google laundry detergent comparisons. But I am much more willing to check out brands that might fit with my outlook on life. For some, maybe that's a brand that has something to do with ecological responsibility, or maybe for others it's about patriotism, or for Emily, maybe it's about hanging out with friends, enjoying life, maybe being a little independent. So speaking of Emily, after Hollister, we go to her second favorite store.

Emily: Okay, this is Charlotte Rouse.

Kaylan: Charlotte Rouse is another clothing store, about twice the size of Hollister, but a very different style.

Emily: It's just kind of like open and very bright, not like Hollister.

Duffy: It is about the polar opposite from Hollister. I mean, this is an old-fashioned kind of store front. It's big, it's bright.

Emily: There's mannequins with their clothes on it.

Kaylan: It's a typical store front, an all-glass front with clothes on display. Now Hollister has a specific style - a surfer style - but I don't really know what Charlotte Rouse's style is, other than just clothing store style. Most of the clothes are very bright colors, so it might be known for that, but that's not really a style.

Emily: Well, actually, I usually get jeans here 'cause I like their brand of jeans. They fit good. I like the brand a lot. So…

Kaylan: So for Emily, this might be more of a store for shopping, whereas Duffy says Hollister might be a store for hanging out in.

Duffy: The products themselves have a serious effect on Emily and many shoppers because it's not just about the ambiance of Hollister. But she's attracted to the products and what they say, and obviously, the products themselves have to be appealing, not just a place to hang out.

Kaylan: And that might be my lesson of the day. That in terms of shopping, Emily is about finding that cute shirt and she knows what she thinks is cute. No brand is going to convince her that an ugly shirt isn't ugly. It's the quality of the product that matters. But that's not to say that retail design has no effect. If I like a brand, I'm much more willing to trust that brand and trust what it gives me. A case in point, Emily and I walked by a store called Forever 21. It serves the same demographic, the same clothes. It's pretty much identical to Charlotte Rouse.

Emily: I actually, I don't really like it 'cause it's kind of messy, and the clothes are like everywhere. It's not very organized, so I don't really like going in there, but a lot of my friends like it. So…

Kaylan: Now to my eyes, it wasn't at all messier than Charlotte Rouse. The flooring was a little different, the music was different, the smell was different. The clothes looked all the same. But the brand just left her cold. Well, I asked Joe Duffy to take me into his Minneapolis studio where he and his designers build these brands.

Duffy: So yeah, this is the space. Totally open environment. Everything we do here is collaborative.

Kaylan: Are there offices here?

Duffy: No, everyone's in an open cubicle. We designed these. We designed this entire space. It's actually an old mill building…

Kaylan: The big project going on today is rebranding Jack-in-the-Box, a West Coast fast-food place that's looking to expand eastward. Well, Jack-in-the-Box wants to present a new image about being fresh and natural, so Duffy shows me drawings of Jack, their clown mascot, and the new color palette they've come up with.

Duffy: There's the bright red that they currently use. There's a darker red that has been incorporated into their new prototype store. It's kind of a brick red. On this board we have kind of a natural, almost olive kind of green that is complementary to that red but I think brings out that whole notion of better for you and more natural. There's a blue which complements that well and that actually comes from Jack's face - his eyes.

Kaylan: Now it's not like Duffy thinks a clown's blue eyes are going to sell you more hamburgers, but rather Jack, and the store design, and the packaging, and the lighting, and the advertising should all work together. And if they're all using the same color palette that's about fresh and natural, you may start to think of Jack in the Box as fresh and natural. At least that's Duffy's hope.

Across the cubicle wall, one of Duffy's designers, Ken Sakurai , tells me a few things he's thinking about for the packaging of some new beauty products. He first thinks about the package itself

Ken Sakurai: The shape of a bottle or a shape of a box.

Kaylan: And then what kind of materials to use.

Sakurai: A label or sticker.

Kaylan: Could it be wrapped?

Sakurai: Could it be a cloth bag?

Kaylan: And what kind of handle?

Sakurai: A silk string or paper string? Does it have a bead?

Kaylan: So this minutia of whether there's a bead on the handle of the bag that holds the box of the tube of the face cream, there's someone at a desk figuring it out, and figuring out how you'd react to it, which in some ways is really nice in that I care about the things that I consume, and I want those things to be as well thought-out as possible. But at the same time, it's a little creepy to think that people are huddled in cubicles figuring out my psychological profile. But Duffy says advertising doesn't rely as much on manipulation anymore.

Duffy: Today, you can go online and find out anything. How they're made, what their track record is vis-à-vis the environment, how much mileage you get, and what the corporation has done as a good citizen or as a bad citizen.

Kaylan: Or even if your toaster is a good as it claims to be.

Duffy: Absolutely. I mean, you can't dupe the consumer any more. It was more manipulative when you could.

Kaylan: And while it's probably always a good idea to remain skeptical when an advertiser tells you he's not manipulating you, I do know that one of the big industry buzzwords right now is "authenticity."

Marketers want to get you and keep you in their tribe. That also means anticipating what you'll desire in the future. Which brings us back to Emily at the mall. She doesn't spend a lot of money right now, but Duffy says she will in time.

Duffy: Even those she's 16 years old and probably doesn't own a car, I'll guarantee you, in her brand portfolio, there is a car. She already knows whether it's a Prius because she's concerned about the environment, or a Mini because she thinks it's cool. And those marketers all know that

Kaylan: So I gave her a call, and it turns out he's right.

Emily: I kind of like the Hummer cause it's like really big and I'd kind of like to drive a big car. Everytime I see one, I'm like, "Oh, it's a Hummer!"

Kaylan: Do you know what color your Hummer would be?

Emily: Probably black.

Kaylan: And what sparked her interest in a black Hummer?

Emily: I think I saw a commercial for it and it had a really cool commercial.

Kaylan: So there you go, building the Hummer tribe, one 15-year-old girl at a time.

Smith: I'm Stephen Smith. While Emily builds her brand portfolio through cute shirts and big cars, many young people are building their own brands online.

Teenagers are one of the most lucrative target markets for companies, but they've always been a target market for each other. Most teens want to fit in and be well-liked. They've always picked out their clothes as a way of showing who they are to their peers. But today there's an arsenal of new tools teens can use to say, "Check me out."

About half of American teenagers have their own page on a Web site like MySpace or Facebook. As you probably know, these are online social networks where each person designs a profile with photos, text, video, music - a digital collage saying, "This is who I am." Then the profile links to a friend, then to another friend, and that's the social network. Making a profile is like creating a personal brand. So we asked some young people to give us a tour of their pages.

They say the first thing they post is a photo. A big photo.

Teens: This picture is me…It's like black and white and the background picture's of this girl like kneeling and she's all like crying…Basically that's me squinting really hard.

People will really represent themselves through, like, a song…The song is probably more important than anything else you put on your profile…So if someone has like cool music on their profile, I'll be like, "Dude, that's awesome"…This is one of my favorite bands called the Hush Sound.

You know when you first get a friend request…You're Facebook friends with these people…Facebook friends are mostly like people from school. And I need Facebook to keep in touch with the people I'm also not so good friends with…I have a thousand and three friends….Relationships don't become official until it's like announced on Facebook.

And when people add new photos…You see a picture and the first thing you think is, "Oh I should put that on my MySpace"…It just says view photos of Laura, 420 pictures…She has 338 pictures of herself….Like every page you go to leads to another picture, which leads to another picture and you just keep clicking.

So I have my "about me"…I'm Shannon. You should all know that by now. I love sun showers and Dove chocolate, because…You can do your birthday, where you're from, like your political views, your religious views…I love whistling. And I really think that adverbs are neglected…Lame pick-up lines, that's my activities in here.

This is a newsfeed and basically it lists like all of my recent activity, like what I've been doing….You're seeing what they're doing, like what did my friend do? You know, I'm a thousand miles away, but I can see what she did Saturday night….I always feel like I'm spying on them.

So I'm reading this message from my friend right now…I have a lot of posts. 822?...Yeah….That's quite a few….Isn't it amazing how long we can be on Facebook for?...I know, we're already at 22 minutes and I'm not even getting bored yet.

Smith: Producer Ellen Guettler wanted to find out what goes in to creating and consuming a personal brand online. So she hung out with young people who spend time crafting their pages. She first met up with 17-year-old Dan Rubenstein, of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Dan Rubenstein: Okay. Hello? Today is August third.

Guettler: Dan's going to be a senior in high school. But right now it's summer. And he's on vacation in Germany.

Dan: And Lily, say your name.

Lily Salvio-Shaker: Lily.

Guettler: He's traveling with his friend Lily Salvio-Shaker.

Lily: (giggles) Salvio-Shaker.

Guettler: They both use the social network site Facebook. Dan and Lily are out of the country. They've got their suitcases and Eurrail passes. But that doesn't mean time away from Facebook. They've asked the German friends they're staying with if they can use their computer.

Dan: I hate the keyboard here.

Guettler: Dan and Lily are keeping in touch with their friends and even their families through Facebook. Lily is about the start her freshman year at the University of Vermont. Facebook is her connection to some crucial information.

Dan: Lily just got her roommate assignment for college. And we're doing the normal thing and we're spying on her in Facebook. (laughs) We just looked at some of her pictures and now we're looking…

Lily: What have we decided based on her pictures?

Dan: She plays rugby. Um…

Guettler: Lily and Dan met each other when they were high school exchange students in Australia. Dan went home to Minnesota and Lily went home to New Hampshire. But they kept in touch on Facebook, and planned this trip to Germany. So when Lily gets her college roommate assignment, it doesn't matter that she's traveling. She fires up Facebook and searches for Meagan Agoglia.

Dan: Click on her "See-Where-I've-Been" map.

Lily: She has been to Mexico. Whoa, she's been to a lot of the U.S. France, Germany, England…

Dan: Oh, cool! And she's lived in Japan and Texas…

Lily: Texas, California, Kansas, Missouri, Georgia, New York. That's crazy!

Dan: She's really interesting. We like her now.

Lily: We like her, she's traveled!

Guettler: Lily has her own "Where-I've-Been" map on her Facebook, so she's thrilled that she and her new roommate both love to travel. And there's a lot more they find out about Meagan. She has a little brother, she likes political science. She's a transfer student from a women's college in Missouri. Lily's excited to be rooming with a sophomore.

Lily: That's awesome! Because then I'll meet people through her!

Guettler: Then it dawns on Lily that Meagan could be learning about her through Facebook. So she returns to her own profile.

Lily: I'm making sure I look good in every picture I have up.

Guettler: The two girls are strangers. But just as they'd want to make a good impression on the first day of school, they want to seem likable to each other online.

That's what Danah Boyd says. She's a Doctoral student at the University of California Berkeley. She's studying how young people use online social networks. Boyd says Lily and Meagan are typical of what most people do

Danah Boyd: People do their best to reproduce the physical body in a way that somewhat idealizes their image of it, but by and large is as close to it as you'd see. So they put up photos to say, "This is who I am," these little snippets of music, and snippets of video, they will put up all of this information that collectively works as fashion accessories for the online world.

Guettler: Danah Boyd knows the online world. She created her first Web page as a teenager in 1995, her first blog in 1997. She's one of the few experts on social media and teenagers, and Danah Boyd is barely 30. But she's been studying online communities for nearly a decade. She says people generally want to be themselves online, just maybe a little cooler.

Boyd: See me at the most sexy, or see me at the most masculine. You sort of want to push the boundaries to say, "This is who I want to be."

Guettler: Of course, when it comes to young people, most kids don't know who they want to be. They're still testing that out.

Boyd: This is the period in which impression management is really learned. You know, did I say things in a way that conveyed what I meant to convey? If not, how do I adjust myself to say what I want? A job interview is all about knowing how to leave the right impression.

Guettler: Boyd says figuring out what impression you leave with strangers is different than what people think of you at home. Teens are testing themselves out in public, and that includes the online world. She says in many ways, public places are not so easy for kids these days. Parks and malls have curfews, kids don't always have transportation, many teens are just overscheduled.

Boyd: Teens are seeking this sort of access to publics and they're being forbidden from them in the physical space. To a certain degree school is a public, right? But it's a public that's very much controlled by adults. The value of social network sites is that the control is not so obvious, right? And so it feels like some form of freedom amidst this culture where they don't have much freedom.

Guettler: That's what concerns parents who say there's too much freedom online. Boyd says it's important that kids be safe, but it helps teens to have some practice before they venture out on their own.

Three weeks later, Lily is back in the United States. It's the day freshmen arrive at the University of Vermont. Lily has just walked through the front doors of her dormitory. Parents and kids squeeze past her carrying duffle bags and plastic storage crates. She pauses in the hallway for a moment, and her new roommate Meagan has come down the stairs looking for her. Soon Meagan spots her.

Meagan Agoglia: Wait, wait, is that her over there? Yes, I think it is.

Salvio-Shaker: Hi!

Both: Aw, nice to meet you!

Meagan: Do you need help carrying up stuff or are you still checking in?

Guettler: The girls haul Lily's boxes up to their dorm room, then they loft their beds. Finally they sit down to talk.

Lily: I wonder if I look the same as I do on Facebook.

Meagan: I think you do. I think you do. I don't know, do I?

Lily: Yeah, you do. You totally do.

Meagan: I think for the most part we both look the same.

Guettler: Most of the incoming freshmen have been on Facebook in the days leading up to their arrival. Some of them recognize each other in the hallways from their profiles. But as moving day ends and parents go home, the freshmen start to gather the way college freshmen usually do: at a party in someone's dorm room.

This room is fairly typical. It has white walls, a gray linoleum floor, the florescent lighting is turned down low for better party ambiance. Kids stand in clusters or sit on the floor. They've known each other for mere hours. But they all use Facebook. And they start to compare notes.

Kate: It was kind of weird, 'cause like I sort of met my roommates on Facebook but they were actually a lot different than they seemed on Facebook.

Alec: You can't really say what you actually are on Facebook. I'm going to put my entire personality on a Web page

Dan: You get to choose how you want to be portrayed.

Alec: Yeah, but usually it's just funny, man. I just want people to think it's funny how I'm portrayed. It's not who I actually am.

Dan: I dunno. I want mine to be me. And I am a funny guy who likes having fun, likes meeting new people, and I think that if you go on my Facebook, I think they kind of get an idea that I'm a good funny guy who likes to meet people.

Erin: No one really looks at a Facebook and is like, "Oh my God. This person has a bad picture. We're done. We're not going to be friends." It's become a really big part of our world just because everybody uses it, but we can't rely on it to be the sole basis of what we judge people on.

Guettler: They say their friends who aren't on Facebook are making a statement by rejecting it. Not being on Facebook says as much about a person as their profile might. To opt out is to say "no" to the mainstream. The kids in this room don't all agree on how they're using their profiles. But they all have one.

Researcher Danah Boyd says many kids want to get on Facebook and MySpace, because that's where their friends are.

Boyd: When I was growing up the friend groups would gather, you know, at the mall. And the worst was being grounded, and not being allowed out. Because all of a sudden, you were afraid that your friends would forget you. For today's teens the social space that they all gather is in many ways online, and so the worst thing is to not, you know, exist there.

Guettler: So kids who cared about their appearance at the mall, will think about the same things online They'll find that writing a message on Facebook lasts longer than talking to a friend at school. And posting a photo on MySpace will call more attention than walking around on the street

But as young people are putting more about themselves online than ever before, they say they're okay with being public. They're used to knowing a lot about each other. And it sort of changes how seriously they take each new piece of information. What used to be personal information, now feels a little more open.

Today's teens are the first generation to design their digital selves alongside their real-life selves. And they're creating a public face. They understand what makes a good brand. Be visible. Be fresh. Have personality. Then message, message, message.

Smith: This is Stephen Smith, and when we started this hour, I was in a store, where I was coveting a vintage pay phone. I know, who wants a vintage pay phone? Well, I did, but it cost 250 dollars. It's a fair price, but not one I was set to pay. But I did buy something.

It's a heavy black dial phone from the 1960s, the kind I grew up with. It only cost 29 bucks, so my inner tightwad is grudgingly satisfied. But I certainly don't need another phone. So maybe that makes me a spendthrift. Or perhaps I'm creating my own personal brand: Guy who clutters his house with old technology. That might explain the manual typewriter, the cylinder phonograph, the telegraph keys. It's a symphony of wants, not needs.

Design of Desire was produced by Chris Julin, Ochen Kaylan, and Ellen Guettler, and edited by Mary Beth Kirchner. We also had help from Sasha Aslanian. The American RadioWorks team includes Chris Farrell, Laurie Stern, Craig Thorson, Emily Torgrimson and Stephanie Soucheray. At American Public Media, Mike Bettison and Margaret Koval. I'm Stephen Smith.

To see a photo-tour of retail design at the Mall of America, and to visit this program's MySpace page, go to our Web site, AmericanRadioWorks.org. While you're there, you can listen to all of our other programs, and sign up for our newsletter. And did I mention it's all free? That's at AmericanRadioWorks.org.

This program is part of Consumed, special coverage of the consumer economy by American Public Media. It was made possible in part by a grant from the Kendeda Sustainability Fund of the Tides Foundation. Major funding for American RadioWorks comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


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