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.