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The thought-provoking link between music and marketing

Written by: Gabriel Troiano

Have you ever imagined your life without music? Or the lives of other people, for that matter? We use words and gestures to communicate, but I truly believe that music is the greatest communication tool there is. Forget poems, books, speeches (although they are certainly very important!), and think about the power of music. One speech or gesture might not unite every single person in an audience, but music sure does keep everyone on their toes. Hans Christian Andersen once famously said: “Where words fail, music speaks.” So it is with this “mantra” that I shall carry on and that I ask that you remember while my words run through your drifting gaze. If they course through your mind melodically, rhythmically, then I have achieved my goal: to become a writer and a musician. A musical wordsmith, let’s put it that way.

Now, in the world we live in, in the capitalistic societies that we are pulled into, music goes beyond its unquestionable, humane function, and acts as a complementary asset to a force within this laissez-faire system: Marketing. Is music just for listening? For the most part, yes, but when marketing comes into play, I beg to differ–the connection between these two is thought-provoking, to say the least.

There is an elder and younger child in this relationship, music being the former, of course, and by far, the one that carries the most importance and relevance to us humans. It is known that the most ancient instrument ever found is the Neanderthal flute, an object dating back almost 60,000 years ago, in northwestern Slovenia. The holes in the instrument were elaborated by experts to be clear signs that this ancient population was indeed capable of making music, of developing and cultivating sophisticated artistic expression. Marketing as we know it, on the other hand, came out of the Industrial Revolution, and especially in the twentieth century, where competition between brands and products became intense. Since the supply of products surged and industries produced these at a staggering pace, the need to differentiate brands from each other became increasingly important. Marketing was an essential part of remaining competitive and getting ahead in the market by increasing value.

When we think of music from the last centuries, many artists and songs come to mind. But for companies looking to cash in on marketing efforts, what truly matters is how to use this auditory tool to sell products and retain customers. And here comes a very important fact, statistically and scientifically proven to be true: Audio has a strong cognitive connection to memory, and so when we listen to music, we immediately tie it to a memory we have. When I hear Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” for example, I am reminded of the first time I saw it at the ballet in my hometown of São Paulo. Now, the important aspect for companies to take note of here is that customers can fall prey to habituation, or the decreased reaction to stimulus after repeated presentations. Therefore, as much as it is important to reel customers in with the familiarity of sonic expression, it is also critical that other stimuli such as design and writing be replaced to beat this cycle of habituation.

Where music and marketing come together, therein lies the field of audio branding, or sound branding. The concept of using sounds to communicate with consumers isn’t new–the first jingle was created around 1926, which was used for an advertisement by General Mills. Since then, the impact that audio has had in marketing campaigns have only increased. Moreover, since music makes our brains release more dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for allowing us to feel pleasure, satisfaction, and motivation, companies can use auditory tools to their advantage by crafting commercials, ads, and marketing campaigns that have a physiological effect on us. Music in marketing campaigns can also be used in specific ways to influence how much consumers are willing to pay. In 1982, Ronald E. Millman published an article that examined customers’ purchases based on the tempo of ambient music. He found that when background music was faster, customers tended to move more quickly around a store, and picked up only what they came for, rather than “hanging around” inside the store. When the tempo was slower, on the other hand, customers tended to stick around for longer periods of time and as a result, ended up browsing and buying more. This is to explain the simple fact that music, in the right tempo and style, can definitely impact customer’s buying behaviors. Music elicits memories, memories elicits feelings, feelings influence behavior, and behavior leads to buying decisions. As simple as that.

In Branding, music and marketing are also incredibly connected. When we open our Mac laptops (sorry for all Microsoft users), for example, we hear the resounding sound of an F-sharp major chord. Ah, what a pleasure it was when we heard this for the first time, like a ritual of initiation to our modern times. Forgive me for this comparison, but it seems appropriate to the societies we inhabit and the situations we find ourselves in. It would be pointless to give this chord meaning through words and appellations, since sound needs no further elaboration than its own reverberation. Some of the most famous brands have been able to attach a sound to their brand identity–think Netflix, LG, Old Spice, the list goes on, and by doing so, they are able to drive familiarity and connect to customers on an emotional level. Another example of this strategy was used by Coca-Cola, with the “Holidays are Coming” song. It’s impossible not to think of Christmas when listening to it!

From a psychological perspective, music can even affect us as consumers on a subconscious level. To comprehend this, I turn to Binet & Field’s book “The Long and the Short of it,” in which they present two theories on how music is processed: First, through the high attention pathway, and this is where we actively engage with music on a conscious level, when we are aware of lyrics, tempo, and other nuances of a sound or song. When we are focusing on the music itself. Brands use this strategy when they want some sort of short-term engagement from consumers, in which these people will utilize their rational behavior to buy or agree with a certain product or message. Sounds simple, right? Well, things get quite profound when music “penetrates” our subconscious. This leads to the second manner in which music is processed, through a low attention pathway. Have you ever found yourself watching an ad and being invested in it the more you watch and go back to it? This is because when we are watching it, we are not necessarily paying attention to the music because it is not taking center stage in the ad. The combination of images and messages are, so the sounds run deep into our subconscious without us even noticing. It might sound like uncalled for brainwashing, but the truth is that brands who can make use of this unconscious strategy have us hooked the more we interact with their commercial or marketing strategy. In the activation of the unconscious mind, emotions start to come to the surface and we begin to remember a brand by the way they made us feel, even if we weren’t actually feeling anything the first time we saw their message! And this is also why we like to say: Emotions are the key to people’s wallets. An exploratory but true marketing practice.

Music and marketing might sound like distant topics, but they have more in common than you might think. To me, when I hear the opening sound of Netflix or a Macbook Air, I am immediately reminded of the times I’ve spent watching a good movie or writing an essay for a university class. That’s why I say that music is the greatest communication tool, because it transcends boundaries, breaks frontiers, and connects people from different parts of the world. There is no word, no gesture or painting that could replace the art of sonic expression. So, for marketing professionals and the world of Branding, music should become an integral part of business strategies, and not an add-on at the end. Music should be treated as any other form of communication, except it isn’t, is it? It’s much more than that. It is how we seek solace when things aren’t going right, it is, oftentimes, our only friend when others aren’t there for us. It has no judgment upon you, all that it asks is that you open your mind and ears to it.

And so, I return to my question, what would the world be without music? Surely, things would look very different, so let’s not waste time imagining this bleak scenario. Instead, as Branding professionals, let’s explore what music has to offer, one note at a time.


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