The Gruen Transfer


Recently we’ve been watching a new show that airs on the ABC called The Gruen Transfer. Given my interest in marketing, it’s a fascinating look at how advertising works. The show is hosted by comedian Wil Anderson, surrounded by a panel of representatives from large advertising / marketing firms who then discuss various TV ads, what’s good about them, what’s not so good, what makes them effective etc. etc.

There is also an interesting segment where they put two advertising firms against each other to create a mock advert for an item that is seemingly impossible to sell – one week they did whale meat, last night they attempted to make celibacy sexy.

I completely understand that this show wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but I love it and it’s great to see them trying something new and different that hasn’t been done before (or at least to my knowledge).

One thing I find particularly interesting is the name of the show. The term ‘Gruen Transfer’ has been described as:

In shopping mall design, the Gruen transfer refers to the moment when consumers respond to “scripted disorientation” cues in the environment. It is named for Austrian architect Victor Gruen (who disavowed such manipulative techniques) and lately popularized by Douglas Rushkoff.

That quote came directly from Wikipedia so we know it MUST be true 🙂

Although for a term (even if it is a fairly niche one) you would expect there to be a lot more pages indexed by Google for it. As it turns-out, most of the entries I found when I did a search relate directly to the TV show… with the one exception being the conveniently placed Wikipedia page.

Now the guy Victor Gruen is real… and yes, he was an architect… but no where could I see any literature that suggested he was responsible for using manipulative architectural techniques to persuade shoppers to make purchases.

Makes me wonder if the ABC is conducting its own marketing experiment to see how much traction they can get by promoting a term/concept that previously never existed. If this is their intention, it would be perfectly fitting with the show (which in itself is great) and if it isn’t then I’m just a conspiracy theorist with an interest in marketing and obviously far too much time on my hands.


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