Does It Fit?

Advertising, ATEC 2321

To continue the conversation started in my previous post, let’s take a look at a more recent article on the influence of music in advertising: The Power of Music. This was written in October 2013 by Les Binet, Dr. Daniel Müllensiefen, and Paul Edwards. Dr. Daniel Müllensiefen teaches Psychology at the University of London, while Les Binet and Paul Edwards work for Adam & Eve DDB UK and Hall & Partners UK, two leading global branding agencies. The article explains how, proven by the authors’ research, music in commercials influences the viewers’ explicit and implicit perception of the brand. Their findings suggest that: 1) TV ads with music work 10-30% more efficiently in gaining attention and improving brand attitude/recall than those without music, and 2) the fit between the music and the brand is critical. We’re going to focus on their second argument.

Speaking of the powerful effect music has on us, Joel Beckerman, Founder and Lead Composer of Man Made Music, gives us very specific and fascinating insights from effective and ineffective sonic branding examples. He mentioned a notorious backfire in 2005 when Royal Caribbean International featured the song Lust for Life by Iggy Pop in its TV commercial. Let’s take a look at the ad:

Yes, it has a catchy melody and exhilarating rhythm that perfectly describe a family cruise trip. But did you hear the lyrics? No need to replay the ad. They didn’t keep all the lyrics anyway, but here’s what the 1977 punk rock hit is about:

Here comes Johnny Yen again
With the liquor and drugs
And a flesh machine
He’s gonna do another strip tease

Well, I’m just a modern guy
Of course, I’ve had it in the ear before
‘Cause of a lust for life
‘Cause of a lust for life

The song contains references about drug abuse and prostitution, which are indeed VERY appropriate for a family trip. VERY. Although some may argue that Royal Caribbean left out most of the song’s controversial message, and Arnold Worldwide, the agency creating the ad, explained that they were trying to reach out to more young people, nothing could really save Royal Caribbean from huge backlashes from the audience for being inconsiderate and distorting the idea of a fun, innocent family trip. Similarly, Lust for Life then landed on every list of the worst misused songs in advertising.

Advertising critic Seth Stevenson pointed out in an NPR podcast that the crowd were angry at Royal Caribbean rather than at Iggy Pop. In fact, the musician was probably confused when the cruise company wanted to use his song in their commercial but let them do it anyway just because, well, they paid for it. Royal Caribbean and Arnold Worldwide, however, had a higher responsibility for using the song appropriately and wisely to help promote their brand names. The audience was outraged because the advertiser delivered a message that was contrary to the brand image. This supports the argument we’ve been discussing: no matter how great the song is, the music has to fit the brand in order for the ad to be effective.

Research Studies: Music and Consumer Behavior

Advertising, ATEC 2321

“Music has long been an efficient and effective means for triggering moods and communicating nonverbally. It is therefore not surprising that music has become a major component of consumer marketing, both at the point of purchase and in advertising.”

Jerome Bruner (1915-), American Psychologist

Ever since it was introduced, music in advertising has always been a subject of interest for researchers in the field of marketing as well as cognitive, neural, and behavioral sciences. In 1990, Dr. Judy I. Alpert at St. Edwards University and Dr. Mark I. Alpert at The University of Texas at Austin did a research study on the influence of music in advertising in consumers’ mood and responses. They conducted an experiment on college students to see if the presence of music  in a fictitious greeting card commercial affected viewers’ attitude and purchasing intention. Their finding suggested that music did impact the subjects’ mood and affect their perceptions of the greeting cards; furthermore, different types of music caused variability in purchasing intentions.

As Bruner once argued that “music is an especially powerful stimulus for affecting moods,” commercial soundtrack first enters our cognitive system by influencing our mood. Most of the time, we (are forced to) watch commercials in between our programs, meaning we are more interested and attentive to the programs than to the commercials. This makes us “uninvolved, nondecision-making consumers rather than cognitive active problem solvers”, as confirmed in the Alperts’ research. Therefore, the ads’ background music affects us subconsciously. In other words, we do not think about or even notice the presence of the music but are still influenced by it. To help us understand the science behind our brain’s reaction to music, Fast Company writer Belle Beth Cooper put together a collection of scientific facts in a very understandable and relatable manner. Other than the “chemical reaction” behind this, here are stories of how music impacts people’s mood in real life, provided by New York psychotherapist, Nathan Feiles, who has had experiences helping his patients get over anxiety, depression, and phobias.

However, when it comes to consumers’ attitude toward the ad and the brand as well as their purchasing intention, there are several studies that challenge the Alperts’ findings in one or more aspects. For example, Dr. David Allan at Saint Joseph’s University’s paper pointed out that Brooker and Wheatley (1994) and Macklin (1988) both reported no effect of music placement on attitude toward the ad. He also gathered a summary of the most relevant and reliable studies on this subject, which shows contradictory results in how music affect consumers’ brand attitude, brand recall, and purchasing intention or not. To explain this inconsistent trend, Dr. Jon D. Morris and Dr. Mary Anne Boone at University of Florida provided very detailed analysis of how under the same study, results were significantly different for commercials of different types of products and services.

One conclusion that all studies have come to is that music does change how commercial viewers feel, but taking every single aspect of how music is used in advertising into consideration, more researches need to be done to accurately understand music’s influences in brand attitude, purchasing intention, and the like.