Quick – play some “hurry-up” music


Bluewater (Photo credit: Rictor Norton & David Allen)

Bluewater park is a massive cathedral to consumerism in the South-East of the UK with over 330 retailers under its considerable roof. According to their website, the average visitor spends about 3 hours there and 98% of visitors say that they enjoyed their visit. I would be among the 2% who didn’t, because 3 hours in a shopping mall sounds like my idea of hell. To me, shopping is an activity involving precision; I need something, so I go directly to the shop that sells those things and buy the first example that fits my requirements.

One of the most interesting projects I ever worked on, however was the building management system for Bluewater. Bearing in mind that it opened in 1999, their requirements were surprisingly sophisticated. They wanted an intelligent system that combined both audio and olfactory zones within Bluewater so that they could play different sounds and emit different smells in different parts of the building.

Accompanying the tender was a study by some foreign scientist (whose nationality and name escapes me) which explained the rationale behind their complex requirements. This scientist had conducted a study and worked out that human behaviour could be manipulated by sounds and smells. If you played a certain kind of music, people would hurry up. If you played different music, they slowed down.


Bluewater (Photo credit: Rictor Norton & David Allen)

I was skeptical but there was even “come hither” music that made people more likely to head in a certain direction. The key phrase here is “more likely”. The music didn’t turn everyone into bumbling automatons, it increased the number of people moving in a certain direction by something like 50%. The smells worked in the same way. Shops that paid more would get the come hither music and smell. I’m not sure if they had “go away” smell for shops that didn’t pay their rent, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Like most large buildings, Bluewater was split into zones. If there was an evacuation alarm, then to avoid panic, the alarm would go off in the zone containing the threat. In the adjacent zones, depending on how close they were to the epicentre, would either have “get the hell out of dodge” music or “would you mind getting a move on” music, whereas a bit further on, there would be “don’t you worry about it” music.

I wish I’d paid a bit more attention. When my wife is taking a long time to get ready – I could play “hurry up” music and when I want to stay in the pub and she wants to go home, I could play “just chill out and relax” music.

English: Interior of Bluewater Shopping Mall

English: Interior of Bluewater Shopping Mall (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have no idea how much of the spec’ made it into the final building management system because we didn’t win the bid, but I would love to hear from someone in the know. I would also like to hear from shoppers who have visited Bluewater. Have you noticed the music in different zones and have you ever been enticed into a shop by a lovely smell ?


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