Why is Music in Advertising so Powerful?
Updated: Mar 9
Think about it: When was the last time you saw a truly memorable commercial that had no sound or music in it? Today’s advertising almost always contains music. It’s not just to fill up “dead air.” Music serves a purpose in advertising. The question is, why is music in advertising so powerful?
1. Music is Scientifically Linked to Memory
The first reason why music in advertising is so powerful is that music is scientifically linked to memory. Listening to an old favorite song can take us back years to the moment that we first heard it—the time, the place, the situation, and the people who were there when we first heard the song.
A 2009 study conducted by cognitive neuroscientist Petr Janata at the University of California, Davis, found a potential explanation for this link between music and memory.
Janata had subjects listen to excerpts of 30 different songs through headphones while recording their brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI. He found that songs linked to strong emotions and memories corresponded with fMRI images that had greater activity in the upper part of the medial prefrontal cortex, which sits right behind the forehead.
This suggests that the upper medial pre-frontal cortex, which is also responsible for supporting and retrieving long-term memories, acts as a “hub” that links together music, emotions, and memories. As a result, listening to a piece of familiar music serves as a “soundtrack” for a mental movie that begins playing in our head and brings back memories of a particular person, place, or event.
2. Music Evokes Emotion
Music has the ability to evoke emotion. Even a single violin string or a low-pitched, two-note theme (think “Jaws”) can elicit emotion from an audience. When used in advertising, it can create an emotional bond between the audience and the brand. According to B&T Magazine, strings playing short and sharp notes in a major key were found to elicit feelings of happiness and excitement in 87 percent of respondents that participated in a recent Australian study.
And, in that same study, a shift from major to minor keys provoked a sense of sadness or melancholy in 83 percent of respondents.
Applebee’s recent “date night” TV commercial was a perfect example of music that lifts the mood and creates a feeling of happiness and excitement. After being housebound for almost two years in the Covid-19 pandemic, Applebee’s perfectly pitched their restaurants as the ultimate date night. The commercial featured Walker Hayes’ “Fancy Like.”
With its fond mention of date nights at Applebee's, “Fancy Like” is now featured on ads for the restaurant chain and is even credited with bringing back the Oreo milkshake that's mentioned in the song, along with Applebee’s infamous Bourbon Street steak.
3. Music Tells a Story
Music is used often in advertising to enhance and augment brand messaging and is, perhaps, the single most stimulating component in a commercial. It is the communications link between the screen and the audience—reaching out and enveloping them in a single, brief experience.
A study by Neurosight, which analyzed over 150 ads to identify which ones are most strongly correlated with long-term memory encoding (LTME), confirms the fact that music in advertising becomes more memorable when it drives the action in the ad. For example, when the lyrics or the tempo matches what is happening on screen.
Our human aural sense is a more powerful, emotional sense than is our sight, so there is a clear opportunity for brands to tell a more compelling brand story and gain competitive advantage by making better use of music and sound.
But, on the other hand, the wrong music and sound can create the wrong impression of a brand in consumers’ minds. Or, worse yet, the wrong music and sound can annoy an audience to the point where they tune out not just the commercial, but also the brand itself.
Expedia Canada experienced this phenomenon when, a few years ago, they used a violin “horror flick” sound as the backdrop to their “Take the fright out of winter” TV commercials. One unhappy audience member took to social media with his negative reaction to the ad, and that comment went viral.
To avoid using the wrong music, marketers need to work with music and audio professionals who also have backgrounds in marketing, advertising, branding, and strategic business planning to ensure the selection of appropriate music that will enable the brand to achieve its messaging objectives.
4. Music Entertains
The music used in advertisements does not necessarily need to have an affiliation or connection with the product. Rather, music can act as more of a connecting medium. In this way, music creates a bridge between the advertisement and the listener and adds aesthetic value to the advertisement, thereby making it entertaining. The more entertaining and engaging a commercial is, the more appealing it will be to the target audience.
5. Music Drives Consumer Action and Reinforces the Sale
When we were in high school, we knew it was the beginning of the next period when the bell rang, and that sound prompted us to take action—to scurry to class. Similarly, we stand when we hear the first strains of The National Anthem and we pull our credit card out of the credit card reader or ATM when we hear the tones that tell us it’s time to remove it.
That’s because, over time, certain sounds begin to serve as non-verbal cues. And over time, they “speak” to us: to stand, to remove the credit card because the transaction is complete. Over time, those tones silently “speak” the words “the transaction is complete,” and it’s all we need to hear to motivate us to take the required action.
Advertisers can evoke that same motivation through the use of sound and music. They reinforce the sale by reinforcing the brand. Music and sound drive consumer action by evoking a sense of “I need to buy this right now.” Without music and sound, advertisements would fall short of their pitch.
ChromeOrange Music is a New York-based record label and music publishing company with a catalog of original music for film, television, video games, internet and broadcast advertising, print and other music licensing applications. Our music has been licensed in over two dozen countries and on television networks like National Geographic, CNN and Telemundo. Please visit our Music Catalog page to access clips of music that span a wide range of genres and moods.
For more information about music licensing, call us at (631) 648-7446 or use the form on our Contact page to send us a message.