Until now, no-one could easily evaluate the best audio to use in a cost-effective way. So gut feel has been a prime driver for the music and other audio used in ads. Because no scientific justification has been possible, sometimes the choice for a marketer between an expensive audio track and a cheaper one comes down to looking at the budget available. Effectively, there’s no “sound” argument for allocating budget!
Let’s delve deeper into the theories and research that prove that 12% just doesn’t cut it.
Listen to the Numbers
No matter the product, a marketer’s end goal is always to grow a memorable brand. This is done largely through creating influential ads that evoke enough interest and emotion in the product such that the audience will buy it. So, if the goal is maximizing consumer impact, marketers need to consider sensory depth, or the way that our senses complement each other to create a complete, and therefore more impactful perception of stimuli.
And because marketers are confined to using only two of the five human senses, (sadly we aren’t advanced enough to advertise at scale through touch, taste and smell… yet), marketers and customers insights professionals must depend on the visual-auditory dynamic.
And there is strong evidence that when properly executed, music and visuals work together to improve marketing results. Oxford professor Charles Spence found that complementary sound heightens the impact of visual communication by over 1000%. However, a poorly compatible sound decreases the effects of visuals by 86%.[ii]
Customer insights and marketing professionals know all about classical conditioning, also known as Pavlovian conditioning. This is the process of pairing a product with a well-liked piece of music to generate a preference for the product. This creates a new association between the two factors, the music (with positive associations) and the product (which may be unknown). The converse also applies; neutral products accompanied by undesirable sensations generate an adverse association with the original neutral product.
In 1982, Gerald Gorn performed the hallmark study that developed this framework.[iii] He paired an advertisement for a neutral colored pen – either light blue or beige – with both pleasant and unpleasant music. His test subjects were asked to pick a pen after being exposed to an ad with one or the other versions of the music. He found that the color of pen the subjects selected was heavily influenced by the music the subject was exposed: the color paired with the well-liked music was 79% more likely to be selected than the color paired with unpleasant music.
Peripheral Processing and Low Involvement Ads
One of the best ways to create these positive impressions — for, say, a product in an ad — is through peripheral cues. These are the features of an advertisement that are not the conveyed information about the product, like copy. Examples of peripheral cues in ads are background music, or the voice and appearance of a spokesperson appearing in the ad.
How do we know this? In 1989, Judy and Mark I. Alpert showed that background music influences product choice through mood inducement.[iv] Other researchers like University of Freiburg professor Mark Zander similarly found that music can convey information about the brand or product being advertised in ways that words cannot.[v] And Debra Riley and Mark Andersen found that in low-involvement ads, or ads in situations that are unlikely to receive focused attention (such as at the end of a long sequence of commercials), the product-relevant information actually takes a backseat to the peripheral persuasion cues.[vi]
Simply put, these researchers have proved that music can and does distort the perception of brand or product irrespective of the portrayal of the product quality itself. Esteemed University of Leicester psychologist Adrian North has rooted years of research into this exact theory.[vii]
Musical Fit and Congruence
Music has an impact on “high involvement” ads too. These ads work on consumers through the active cognition process of the listener, or the method in which we rationally consider and internalize information presented to us, a distinction put forth by Richard Petty, Tom Cacioppo and David Schumann in 1983.[viii] Music supports these ads through “Musical fit,” or the music’s relevance to or reinforcement of the ad’s central message.
In 1991, Deborah MacInnis and C. Whan Park found that a high musical fit aids in ingraining the basic brand message and product in the listener’s mind.[ix] They also found that it can positively impact how the product information is perceived. This congruence, or the degree to which the musical choice suits the central ad message, bypasses conditional responses and directly amplifies the likeability of the advertisement itself.
Congruency and Likeability Matter. Familiarity Does Not?
Michael Blecha of Butler University posits that congruency is not just about picking a great song, but rather about perfecting its interaction with the ad.[x] Congruency increases the more the song suits the content of the advertisement. Blecha examined the role of three factors of a soundtrack and assessed how much they really mattered: music congruency, likeability, and familiarity. Congruency and likeability increased product interest and ad favorability. However, the relationship between music familiarity and positive response was not statistically significant.
It makes sense: creating an interest in a brand or product is not an unprovoked endeavor. Audiences will only choose to learn more or purchase a product if the ad activates an urge in them to do so.
So How Can Marketers Use Music to Amplify Their Messages?
There are two main take-outs from the research findings.
- First, brands that wish to emphasize utility and product quality, especially in high involvement ads, need to utilize congruent audio to achieve a significant musical fit.
- Second, advertisers seeking to increase brand familiarity and popularity in low-involvement spots must utilize classical conditioning through likeable music and periphery cues. However, the subjectivity of musical fitness means it differs between demographics. Thus, it is paramount for brands to pre-test audio tracks for upmost effectiveness and resonance within the target audience.
Finally, it is the market researchers’ responsibility to push the envelope when it comes to quantification of the acoustics-emotion tandem. Most research has focused on quantifying music along the dimensions of Valence (what specific emotions are evoked) and Arousal (how strongly those emotions are evoked). But marketers don’t speak in that way.
Rather, Marketers and Customer Insights professionals need a platform to translate the measurement of music in their marketing into their own language.
Music and other media of sound have the unmatched ability of evoking emotions in a matter of milliseconds. Some of the best advertisers in the world have long recognized this: Coca Cola, Nationwide, and Kit Kat; the list goes on.
The world is screaming that sound matters… and that’s music to our ears!
Have another great case study to add to this list? Share your suggestions by leaving a comment below.