When it comes to branding, commercial design, advertising and event production, music continues to be a complicated area where long maintained myths and inexperienced opinions hold fast:

  • Music is ‘too subjective’ to be quantifiable or converted into metrics
  • Music doesn’t impact the customer experience
  • Music is a commodity to be bought and sold at the cheapest price

Why is the strategic integration of music so essential for brands, commercial design, advertising, and event production?  When implemented strategically, by an experience and educated designer, music provides not just a personal connection but also alters product perceptions, creates emotional experiences, differentiates the brand from competitors and provides real value for all shareholders.

In today’s world, we are engaged to a brand on an emotional level rather than on a rational one.   We have moved beyond the idea that a brand is just a logo or trademark represented through a company’s materials.  Pine and Gilmore (1998) express the fact that companies do not sell just products and services anymore – they sell experiences connected to brands.  “Experiences” are a source of value, distinct from services or products being offered.  Brands no longer appear to be unreachable subjects, but instead appear as “friends” who care about our fears, urges, and happiness.  (Lovemarks, Roberts , 2004).

One of the prevailing myths I continue to hear is that music is too subjective.  This oversimplified way of thinking about music continues to keep big box background music providers who industrialize music for businesses, as the leading source of music for commercial environments.

In 1998, a study conducted by Morris and Boone, (The Effects of Music on Emotional Response, Brand Attitude, and Purchase Intent in An Emotional Advertising Condition)  validated the impact of music on customer perception – both positive and negative – and music’s ability to change feelings.  What are interesting to note from this study, are the descriptive changes in the viewer’s feelings towards advertisements when music is added.  These changes in feelings occurred in nine of the twelve advertisements.

  • Sony Advertisement
    When subjects saw the advertisement without music, they felt nostalgic, different, awed, and full of wonder.When music was added, the viewers felt informed, self-conscious, virtuous, and useful.
  • Cancer treatment advertisement
    When subjects saw the advertisement without music, they felt egotistic, astonished, proud, and tempted.When music was added, viewers felt repentant, skeptical, contemptuous, coarse, and cynical. The music obviously did not help this advertisement project the correct feelings, especially because the adjectives for the advertisement without music were projecting the correct feelings. The adjectives not only reveal that the music was poorly chosen for this particular ad, but that music can change viewers’ feelings about an advertisement very drastically (i.e. from proud and astonished to skeptical, cynical and contemptuous).

Within this study NOTHING else changed except the addition of music. When adding music, 75% of the advertisements had emotionally affected outcomes.

Subjective means belief or opinion.  Objective, on the other hand, means certain or factual.  While you may have an opinion or a personal preference regarding your taste in music, there remains certain and factual information that validates the benefits of strategically implementing music.

  • The late Dr. Ira N. Alschuler, a psychiatrist and one time director of musical therapy at Wayne County Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, reported that “the mental and spiritual drug of music enters the human being through the thalamus, a part of the brain that is the main relay station for all emotions, sensations, and feelings. Thus music affects moods.”
  • Over a two week period, French and German music was played on alternate days from an in-store display of French and German wines.  French music led to French wines outselling German ones, whereas German music led to the opposite effect on sales.  (North, Adrian C.; Hargreaves, David J.; McKendrick, Jennifer, 1999)  Responses to a questionnaire suggested that customers were unaware of the effects of the music on their product choices.

Researchers have determined that emotions guide and influence consumer behavior far more than seen in traditional, cognitive research. (Rossiter & Percy, 1991; (Batra & Ray’s 1983; Holbrook & Batra, 1988).  Traditional research methods such as measures of recall, recognition and brand attitude measure consumers’ thoughts, but not their feelings or their total range of emotion. Humans think and feel, and both processes influence their behavior (Zajonc, 1980; Zajonc & Markus, 1982).

Experts have often reported that we feel first and think later. This probably isn’t news to many readers. There’s a new study, however, that again verifies that assumption. Ross Flom, from Brigham Young University, led a study in which it was proved that babies as young as 6 months can tell the difference between a dog barking in happiness and one who is barking in anger or distress.  The study was published in Developmental Psychology.  The results support the idea that people hear at a level of emotion and intensity that overpowers both words and visuals.

If we all understand the importance of creating an emotional connection, I continue to wonder why Music Design remains as after-thought for commercial space, and a missing service from branding, advertising, and event agencies.