Retail Therapy

I had occasion to spend some time in a shopping centre (or mall, as it may alternatively be called) yesterday. And while I was there, I also visited the men’s room. There is an awful lot of advertising space in male toilets these days: above every urinal, in every stall, above the hand dryers, and on the walls on the way out. I’m guessing the situation is the same in the ladies’ room—though with the obvious exception—but I have no first-hand knowledge.

In the three (hey! I was stuck in a vehicle for four hours drinking coffee) separate bathrooms that I wandered —or strode urgently—into, the advertising fell into two kinds. One was the standard, “Your ad here,” kind of guff, but the other kind dealt solely with male depression. My initial reaction was, “Well, yeah, spending time in a shopping centre makes me want to kill myself too.” And apparently, I wasn’t alone in my flippancy.

Defaced depression awarenes poster

Defaced depression awareness poster

And I have to admit, the bit of graffiti written in black did make me smile. (And it still does, for anyone who was worried that I was about to subject them to a tale of personal growth.) However, it does make a lot of sense to reach out to depressed men in shopping centres, and not simply because they are such horrid places.

Compulsive shopping is a well-recognised response to depression. There are all sorts of theories on why this maybe the case, like this one:

In this case, it’s thought something in the act of shopping releases a chemical in the brain known as serotonin, which is closely involved in the control of mood (low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression and other mood problems).

Personally, I think this is the wrong way around. People don’t go shopping to gain relief from depression, they go shopping because they are depressed. The way that advertising works is to make people feel unhappy. There are, of course, various levels, but the general idea is to make someone feel that their life is missing something. The next step is to suggest that the particular product that you are peddling is the one and only item that can complete their life. And it is not just advertisers, retailers, wholesalers, etc. who need the world to operate in this way. How often have you heard a politician in the last few months say, “We need to keep consuming,” or words to that effect? If you watch the news, the answer is going to be something like, “Everyday.”

All of this means that shopping centres are in a unique situation to reach out to those suffering depression. And anyways, if a person’s thoughts do turn to suicide, they’ll probably find that they just don’t have the supplies around the house. Sure they could MacGyver something, or just plain old make-do, but chances are they will need to pick up some stuff.

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