Nostalgia is known to be a powerful emotion and is a common theme in advertising. Nostalgic cues delivered by music in particular are a dominant feature in TV ads:
- 60% of YouTube’s most-watched global ads in 2018 featured popular music, 80% of which was nostalgic music;
- and last year most of the major UK Christmas TV ads featured nostalgic cues, 59% of which included nostalgic music
This got me thinking about what type of nostalgic music is the most effective, especially when on closer examination of the 2017 major UK Christmas TV ads, I found that the nostalgic tracks used span many decades (see figures 1 and 2).
A lack of research in this area inspired me to focus on this for my MBA dissertation, and one of the key research findings was surprising:
Millennials showed a higher emotional response and a more positive attitude to the brand when watching an ad featuring 80s music than watching an ad featuring music from their teenage years. Why?
You would expect Millennials to respond more positively to the music from their own youth as research shows that the peak musical memory age is from when you were between 14 and 17 years old (1, 2).
But musical memories are also formed from hearing music played by your parents or grandparents (tracks from their teenage years) and this is known as a ‘cascading reminiscence bump’ period (3).
These two musical memory periods differ in the way they evoke nostalgic emotions as tracks from another generation will usually evoke positive, happy memories of ‘the way it was’ (4) and are associated with a time before you were born. This ‘historical’ nostalgic reaction is less risky than evoking personal nostalgia, which can remind you of ‘the way I was’. Music can instantly transport you back to a personal moment in time and if a song is associated with a negative event in your life, this negativity can instantly be transferred to the brand if featured in an ad.
So, what if your brand targets both Millennials and Generation X? How can you choose a track which will evoke positive emotions for both age-groups?
Do the ‘Safety dance’
Using gut feel to choose the right song will get you a long way, but with large media budgets in play and ROI always front of mind, pre-testing your ad’s audio content (i.e. doing the safety dance) should be the tune of the day.
Television delivers 71% of total advertising-generated profit, yet it is pervasive with 2.6 billion ads seen in the UK every day with each person ‘viewing’ on average 43 ads daily (5). Brands need to stand out but not just visually as ‘viewing’ does not mean consumers are paying attention – 21% of people leave the room during ad-breaks and 40% look at a second device. However, consumers still ‘hear’ the commercials (6) making the audio elements and music in an ad paramount.
Using nostalgic music in an ad is one way to get stand-out and brand recall, increase brand attitude and achieve better overall ad performance, but how do you know that the track you choose is evoking the right nostalgic feelings i.e. ‘the way it was’?
The music selection clearly needs to fit a brand’s values as well as the ad creative but understanding the target audience’s emotional response to the music is also essential. And the only way for brands to determine this is to test music with their customers right at the beginning of the advertising process.
(1) Hemming, J. (2013), ‘Is there a peak in popular music preference at a certain song-specific age? A replication of Holbrook & Schindler’s 1989 study’, Musicae Scientiae, 17(3), pp.293-304.
(2) Gerlich, R., Browning, L., and Westermann, L. (2010), ‘I’ve Got The Music In Me: A Study Of Peak Musical Memory Age And The Implications For Future Advertising’, Journal of College Teaching and Learning, 7(2)
(3) Krumhansl, C. and Zupnick, J. (2013) ‘Cascading Reminiscence Bumps in Popular Music’, Pyschological Science, 24(10), pp.2057-2068.
(4) Marchegiani, C. and Phau, I. (2011), ‘The value of historical nostalgia for marketing management’, Marketing Intelligence and Planning, 29(2), pp.108-122.
(5) Thinkbox (2018) TV Advertising’s Killer Charts – What Every Marketer Should Know. Available at: https://www.thinkbox.tv/Research/Nickable-Charts/Killer-Charts/TV-advertisings-killer-charts-full-deck (Accessed: June 1, 2018).
(6) Council for Research Excellence (2017). Nielsen Neuroscience Study: The Mind of The Viewer. Available at: http://www.researchexcellence.com/files/pdf/2017-03/id423_cre_the_mind_of_the_viewer_arf_presentation_3.14.17.pdf (Accessed: June 1, 2018).
Findings are part of an MBA Thesis by Michelle Heywood: Identifying Generation Differences: The Impact of Nostalgic Music in TV Advertising on Emotional Response, Brand Attitude and Purchase Intent, Brunel University London