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The influence of music on consumer behavior has been extensively studied in the behavioral and psychological sciences. Its outcomes and insights are beneficial for marketers when implementing music in environments such as supermarkets, as it can increase sales (Santos & De Lamônica Freire, 2013). Furthermore, consumer behavior can be manipulated through various characteristics of music, including its pace, volume, genre, and mode (Knöferle et al., 2011). For example, a study by Mandila and Gerogiannis (2016) found that playing soft jazz and lounge music in a store can increase the amount of money consumers spend. To determine whether the incorporation of music in advertisements affects consumer behavior, several studies will be highlighted.

Classical Conditioning

Classical conditioning, a strategy frequently used in the marketing industry to shape consumer behavior, makes people like products more by linking them with positive things. It’s a way to teach customers to feel good about a brand using familiar connections. (Pornpitakpan, 2012). This method, rooted in the foundational work of psychologist Ivan Pavlov, illustrates how a neutral stimulus, when repeatedly paired with an unconditioned stimulus, can become a conditioned stimulus that elicits a specific response. In Pavlov’s renowned study, the sound of a bell (neutral stimulus) was associated with the act of getting fed (unconditioned stimulus), leading dogs to salivate (conditioned response) at the sound alone (Stuart et al., 1987). Similarly, music is effectively used in advertisements as a neutral stimulus to influence consumer behavior, subtly creating associations that impact purchasing decisions (Vermeulen & Beukeboom, 2015). This application of classical conditioning demonstrates its impact in manipulating consumer perceptions and behaviors.

Pavlov’s experiment

Building on Pavlov’s previous work on classical conditioning, Gorn (1982) conducted an experiment to explore the influence of music on consumer preferences. This study revealed a significant effect: participants were more likely to favor a product when paired with music they enjoyed, compared to when the product was presented with music they did not like. By pairing products with liked or disliked music, Gorn demonstrated the powerful role of sonic branding in shaping consumer attitudes and purchase intentions, thus highlighting music’s potential as an effective tool in marketing strategies through classical conditioning.

A Practical Example

An example of a company that incorporates this method in advertising is IKEA, which utilized classical conditioning to forge a strong connection between its brand and the popular, upbeat song ‘Home’ by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros (missingsynch, 2013). The selection of this cheerful music creates a positive emotional ambiance within the commercial, subtly shaping viewers’ perceptions of the brand. This is achieved by making them associate the happy home atmosphere, elicited by the pleasant music (acting as the unconditioned stimulus), with IKEA (becoming the conditioned stimulus). The way how perceptions and attitudes on a visual advertisement are changed through sonic influences, is called cross-modal conditioning. This happens mostly without the viewer even knowing (Vermeulen & Beukeboom, 2015).

Limitations

Using music in advertising can be profitable. However, it is possible that counter effects occur. Some companies choose to use music of famous celebrities in commercials in order to create positive associations between the brand and the celebrity (Wanke, 2008). However, counter effects might occur when a celebrity is linked to a scandal. This is called backward conditioning and can bring the brand’s reputation in danger (Wanke, 2008).

Further Research

Continuing on Gorn’s research in sonic branding (1982), two psychologists, Vermeulen & Beukeboom (2015) did an extensive study that explains more about the influence of music on consumer behavior. In their study they conducted three experiments (Vermeulen & Beukeboom, 2015). The first one was to see whether musical conditioning affects consumer choice with low-involvement products, which are typically purchased with minimal deliberation. The second experiment tested whether musical conditioning effects extend to high(er)- involvement products, which demand more thoughtful consideration and often involve more elaborate information processing. Lastly, the third experiment tested whether musical conditioning had any effect on brand attitudes.

Results

The first experiment by Vermeulen & Beukeboom (2015) found statistically significant, yet small, effects of music on choices involving low-involvement products. This suggests that music can slightly influence consumers’ subconscious feelings towards these products.

In their second experiment, no significant influence of music on choices regarding high-involvement products, such as bikes, was observed. This indicates that music’s impact might be limited when consumers engage in more deliberate decision-making processes.

The final experiment revealed that pairing favored music with a brand positively affected overall attitudes towards the brand and its products. However, this positive shift did not extend to more detailed evaluations of the brand or increase intentions to purchase, highlighting the nuanced role of music in shaping brand perception without directly affecting purchasing decisions.

Applying the results

A way to incorporate the results of the revised study of Vermeulen & Beukeboom (2015) in a marketing strategy, is to play popular and likeable music in a store. This kind of background music is called ‘Muzak’ and is a well-known strategy used by marketeers to generate more sales (Gustafsson, 2015). This way, the low-involvement products will be bought more often. In addition, the general impression of the store and its products will also be more likeable and consequently may attract potential near customers.

Conclusion

In this article several studies have been highlighted to strengthen the statement that music in advertisements can influence consumer behavior. To summarize; music does have an influence on consumer behavior. Through cross-modal conditioning, the viewer’s general perception of the brand can be shaped, as can their choices be in purchasing low-involvement products. Classical conditioning can however, bring complications when a certain song that is used in the advertisement brings negative associations over time. For instance, if the singer is involved in a scandal, it can damage the brand’s reputation.

Although music can significantly increase sales, precautions are necessary when choosing a song in order to avoid negative backward conditioning. In sum, the use of music in advertisements can indeed influence purchasing choices of consumers.

Want to know more about sonic branding and it’s benefits? Reach out to Ruben on our website and he’ll tell you all about it and how to apply it in your branding strategy. Manify Agency is here to elevate your business as a team!

Watch this video if you are interested to learn more about sonic branding:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpduxRd9orM

Reference list

Gorn, G. J. (1982). The Effects of Music in Advertising on Choice Behavior: A Classical Conditioning Approach. Journal Of Marketing, 46(1), 94. https://doi.org/10.2307/1251163

Gustafsson, C. (2015). Sonic branding: A consumer-oriented literature review. Journal of brand management, 22(1), 20-37.

Knöferle, K., Spangenberg, E. R., Herrmann, A., & Landwehr, J. R. (2011). It is all in the mix: The interactive effect of music tempo and mode on in-store sales. Marketing Letters, 23(1), 325–337. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11002-011-9156-z

Mandila, M., & Gerogiannis, V. C. (2016). The Effects of Music on Customer Behaviour and Satisfaction in the Region of Larissa- The Cases of Two Coffee Bars. Academia. https://doi.org/10.39402/ rm14432-91-1110

Vermeulen, I., & Beukeboom, C. J. (2015). Effects of Music in Advertising: Three Experiments Replicating Single-Exposure Musical Conditioning of Consumer Choice (Gorn 1982) in an Individual Setting. Journal Of Advertising, 45(1), 53–61. https://doi.org/10.1080/00913367.2015.1088809

Santos, E., & De Lamônica Freire, O. B. (2013). THE INFLUENCE OF MUSIC ON CONSUMER BEHAVIOR. Independent Journal Of Management & Production, 4(2). https://doi.org/10.14807/ijmp.v4i2.111

Wanke, M. (2008). Social Psychology of Consumer Behavior. Psychology Press.