The soundtrack to selling: why advertising with popular music needs to be pitch perfect

Headphones-photo-by-C-D-X-on-Unsplash At some point today, it’s likely that you’ll listen to music. It may be during a commute or school run, while you do some exercise or take some time to relax. Music is all around us – an accessible and popular art form which accompanies our daily lives.

Advertisers have long understood the popularity and emotional power of music and used it to sell us things. Much time – and money – is spent on securing the right soundtrack to adverts in a bid to boost sales, such as when Microsoft spent a reported US$3 million (AUD$4.5 million) to use The Rolling Stones’ song Start Me Up as part of their advertising campaign for Windows 95.

So how do companies choose the right music for their product? And why is it such a valuable ingredient in the mission to make us consume?

Research suggests that the specific qualities of music as an art form enhances the science of selling. As one researcher puts it: “Music […] is the catalyst of advertising. It augments pictures and colours words, and often adds a form of energy available through no other source.”

Other studies have shown how music transports, underlines or amplifies the persuasive message of adverts. Used well, it creates memorable commercials which influence our attitudes to a product or service.

Take the visually simple but compelling advert for Air France, with the soundtrack of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23. It projects grandeur and elegance, in the hope that viewers will associate those qualities with the airline.

My research, which looked at hundreds of viewer comments about the music used in advertising, suggests it was successful. Air France’s use of a sophisticated piece of classical music created a direct perception of a sophisticated and premium airline.

This is supported by other research which suggests that music which matches the main message of an advert has a positive effect on consumer engagement. This alignment, known as “musical congruity”, can result in enhanced attention, a positive emotional response, and improved brand recall, ultimately enhancing the effectiveness of an advert.

Down memory lane
Music is also effective at triggering feelings of nostalgia. The extent to which music arouses emotional memories – “musical indexicality” – in adverts creates associations with consumers’ past experiences.

The music for an advert for Old Navy inspired positive comments based on viewers’ memories. A good choice of music allows businesses to tap into this nostalgia for commercial benefit, and my research suggests that music with autobiographical resonance can be particularly effective.

Another example of this is when Volkswagen used Nick Drake’s Pink Moon. As one viewer commented: “Rarely do I get sentimental with commercials, but this one takes me back to the time when I was dating my wife and when we were first married. We used to take drives like this in the mountains and I remember looking at her beautiful face in the moonlight. The music is perfect. The sentiment is perfect.”

(In this case, the 1999 advert also had a big impact on Nick Drake’s popularity, with album sales dramatically increasing after the advert’s release. Drake, who died at the age of 26, never saw commercial success in his lifetime.)

Commercial clash
But using music to advertise products doesn’t always work. For one thing, music can infiltrate the mind, repeat itself continuously and become extremely difficult to dislodge.

This is why we can’t get some jingles out of our heads for ages. Involuntary and repetitive exposure to a piece of music can quickly reach the point of annoyance.

The use of popular music in advertising can also provoke arguments around the tensions between artistic endeavour and commercialism. Some people believe a work of art should not be used for the pursuit of profit.

In fact, the findings of my study on viewer comments showed that consumers sometimes passionately oppose the use of music by revered musicians being used in adverts, as they believe that doing this undermines its aesthetic integrity.

For example, Nike’s use of the The Beatles’ song Revolution was seen by some as exploiting John Lennon’s lyrics to sell shoes. It made some Nike wearers so angry that they boycotted the brand.

One wrote: “This is disgusting. Shame on Nike for exploiting priceless art. I will never buy another Nike shoe again.” Another said: “John didn’t mean change the brand of your trainers!”

So advertisers need to be careful. For while the right choice of music can attract customers, boost sales, and inspire brand loyalty, the wrong choice can create something of a backlash. For many people, music is precious, and using it as a marketing tool does not always have harmonious results.The Conversation

The soundtrack to selling: why advertising with popular music needs to be pitch perfect
Morteza Abolhasani, Lecturer in Marketing, The Open University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Headphones – photo by C D-X on Unsplash