The Ads We Never See
- A woman is driving in traffic. In the passenger seat a man in a clown suit is excitedly honking on a horn and blowing on a kazoo. In the back seat, two women, dressed for a party, are whooping, squealing, and excitedly exchanging banter. Stopped at a light, the driver winces and covers her ears. She then changes the radio station. As the light turns green and she pulls away, all these passengers vanish. A happy, upbeat tune comes on as the DJ makes a station ID, followed by the tagline “radio for great music, and quiet conversation.”
If it existed, this is the radio station I would listen to. As it is, I have not listened to radio in decades. The DJs’ loud juvenile banter, the screaming, frenetic commercials, and the piped-in noise and sound effects feel like sandpaper against my brain. And If I owned a radio station, I would make it for quiet people like me. After all, people who love noise have plenty of other stations to listen to.
- A man goes into a toy store. He is immediately accosted by a sales clerk, who asks him “What can I help you find today?” He says “no-thank you,” and turns away. Loud music and blaring announcements spew from the intercom system. A rapid succession of cuts then shows the clerk following him through the aisles, peppering him with questions: “Are you looking for a little boy or a little girl? … So how many children do you have? … Can I interest you in our discount section? … So, do you live in the local area?” With each question the man looks more annoyed and hurries away, but the clerk just keeps tailing him. Finally he escapes out the door empty handed. A large red X then appears on the screen and the narrator says “Tired of the interrogation? Come to (name of toy store). We respect our quiet customers.” The man then enters another toy store. A clerk welcomes him and says “just let me or another associate know if you need any help.” He proceeds to browse peacefully through the aisles, smiling and relaxed. The store is either filled with, calm, quiet music, or none at all. The narrator says “Remember (name of store) for all the toys without all the noise.”
If I ever heard an ad like this, I would never shop for toys anywhere else. And if I owned a toy store, this is how I would run it and advertise it. After all, it’s not unreasonable or impossible to accommodate more than one type of customer, is it?
The Great, Unwelcome Horde
It is estimated that introverts comprise between 30 and 50 percent of the U.S. population. After Susan Cain made the case for introverts in her groundbreaking book Quiet, some companies wisely started acknowledging the benefits of supporting a workforce of diverse temperaments. But none of them seem to have acknowledged introverts among their customers. For the U.S. retail sector, “customer” remains synonymous with “extrovert.”
Malls pipe noise and loud music into their halls. News and weather presenters insert endless banter, cackling, and small-talk into their presentations. Stores require sales clerks to “connect” with all their customers and to “interact” with them a minimum number of times. Churches turn their services into big extrovert extravaganzas of loud music, clapping congregations, screaming preachers, and calls to “greet your neighbor in the pew.” Advertisements of all stripes are uniformly loud and frenetic.
Everywhere the message is clear: this is a place for the loud and the social. Quiet, private people are not welcome here. Most often, we are not even acknowledged to exist.
I have no experience or expertise in business, retail, or sales. I do remember a time, however, before shopping could be a matter of clicks and deliveries. I remember when I had little choice but to brave the noise, intrusion, and harassment that is too often part of the in-person shopping experience, with its “helpful” salespeople and “friendly” cashiers.
But now we have a choice, and we are making it. As online sales eat into brick and mortar profits, some retailers are beefing up their idea of “customer service,” which is that all customers must explain themselves to the sales staff, answer their intrusive personal questions, and “bond” with them before being allowed to buy anything. Browsing alone and in peace is not allowed. Perhaps that’s what extroverts like. But it’s pushing quiet, private people like me out of brick and mortar in droves. Even though not every establishment does this, just a few such experiences fill me with so much dread that it could happen that I may not even want to give a store a try.
Shopping online has its own disadvantages. There are often high shipping fees. You can’t try on the garments. You can’t touch and examine your purchase. And returns are an especially bothersome experience that you often have to pay for yourself.
Still, I usually take the extra risk and expense of buying it online.
So when I hear about another small store or brick-and-mortar chain downsizing or going out of business, and hear analysts citing the “pull” of e-commerce as the culprit, I’m skeptical. Because I know that many retailers work very hard to push up to half of us out of their establishments.
And when I see shows and serials failing or reporting drops in ratings, I also wonder whether all the factors are being acknowledged. I remember how often I roll off a program because it is simply painful to watch. If I want to hear the weather, I have to wait through the presenters’ continuous cackling and mindless banter that is toxic to my very being. If I want to watch a news or political talk show, the shouting, interrupting, and yelling over each other ensures my visit will be brief. And if any show has piped in noise — just for the sake of noise — it’s not going to stay long on my screen.
If only a grocery store assured me that its cashiers would not ask me nosy questions about my purchases — that would be my grocery store.
If only a hair salon assured me that my stylist would not try to pry into my “plans for the weekend,” that would be my hair salon.
If only stores would promise me that their sales staff had been trained how to tell the difference between customers who want to chat and bond with them and customers who want to be left in peace, I may well prefer shopping there in person to doing it online.
And if only retailers and media companies would acknowledge the huge portion of the population that skews towards the introverted end of the temperament scale, search engines that follow us to introvert sites could also direct us towards things like this:
- Restaurants with “quiet rooms” where the tables are further apart, there are no TV’s, and no loud music is piped in,
- A “quiet” cable or satellite TV channel where commercials don’t blast and scream, presenters get to the point without banter, and people on panels don’t shout over each other.
- Bars and clubs where the music is not so loud you have to scream to converse,
- Churches with quiet, calm services that don’t feature loud music, clapping, shouting, or forced socializing, and
- Movies that have not piped in all the bangs, screams, screeches, explosions, and notorious “boom” sound into their soundtracks and previews.
If only media producers and retailers would abandon their assumption that everyone is an extrovert, they may well develop a lot of very loyal customers. We are out here, pushed to the margins of a society run by and for the loud and gregarious. We are rarely acknowledged and never accommodated.
If I had a business or a media outlet, this is where I would start mining for gold.