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The Most Overlooked Psychological Factor in What Makes Advertising Music Work

Relevant topics Archive, Advertising

  • Neuromarketing Principle:
    Low frequencies make people think more abstractly, whereas high frequencies make them adopt a more concrete mindset.
  • Application:
    Change the sound frequency in your store or commercial to fit either an abstract or concrete marketing message.
  • Both advertisers and researchers have known for many years that music can tip the scale in an ad’s favor. The well-chosen tune can make all the difference when it comes to people attending towards the ad, developing positive attitudes and associations – and ultimately forking over their hard earned cash to buy the product.

    But what exactly constitutes the right music?

    I’m about to share a recent couple of studies with you that have unearthed an important factor. One that we may have been missing all along.

    What advertising research has neglected to hear in music

    As the author of these studies puts it: “most advertising studies exploring the effects of music have lacked an in-depth understanding of music psychology when choosing their music.”

    He’s right. Most previous studies into music and advertising stayed safely within the realm of easy-to-spot differences of genre. Over and over again, these studies found that soundtracks that simply fit the product perform better. Hip-hop sells sneakers, while classical music seals the deal for a fine wine. Mixing up these genres would be laughable at best. And as such, these findings rarely surprised seasoned advertising professionals.

    But the current study did something different. It uncovered a subtler musical element that allows itself to be adjusted to create a better product-music fit: frequency. Frequency is the natural attribute that gives music either a deep bass (low frequencies) or rich treble (high frequencies).

    In a previous post on NewNeuromarketing, we already discovered that music frequency potentially has powerful effects on attention. When people hear bass (low frequencies), they are more likely to attend to dark objects, whereas treble (high frequencies) makes their eyes shift towards lighter objects. This gives advertisers and store designers alike clear directions on how to optimally align sound and graphics.

    This new study shows that musical frequency’s sway on attention is just the tip of the iceberg.

    Abstract versus concrete thinking

    Music can change how people think. To grasp this idea, we must first address the difference between abstract and concrete thinking, as underlined by construal level theory.

    Concrete thinking refers to thinking about a product’s tangible and instant benefits. When you think concretely, a drink quenches your thirst, a bed restores your energy and a drill helps you hang a picture on the wall.

    On the other hand, abstract thinking touches upon a product’s more intangible benefits. Abstract thinking makes you appreciate life insurance for its calming effects on your mind, but it also makes you see the beauty in Picasso.

    The current study found that music frequency could shift the brain’s gears between abstract and concrete thinking. More specifically, high frequencies activate your inner concrete thinker, whereas low frequencies make you think more abstractly.

    Frequency effects in shopping and advertising: a matter of marketing message fit

    The frequency effect shows itself in a number of interesting ways. Firstly, sound frequency can alter your taste in art. High frequencies (concrete!) makes you appreciate ultra-realistic paintings, whereas low frequencies increase your appreciation of abstract art.

    Let’s look at the outcomes in the world of shopping. The data shows that products advertised alongside low frequency music actually feel farther away than alongside high frequency music. In other words: a pumping low-frequency bass does a great job boosting the allure of a fancy exclusive fragrance but should be switched with a high-frequency treble when advertising a tasty hamburger that you want to sink your teeth into right here and now.

    These effects extend beyond the product category, deeply into the marketing message itself. For instance, a hotel chain could promote its rooms with an abstract message promising “a special night, unlike ordinary days.” Alternatively, it could put forward a more concrete claim like “Get a good sleep like you do at home.” Again, sound frequency made all the difference in which message appealed more. Low frequencies made people appreciate the abstractly worded ‘special night’, whereas high frequencies made the concrete night’s sleep more persuasive.

    Advertisers and retailers should consider whether their product and marketing message is rooted into abstract or concrete thinking. Then, all you need to do is to crank that bass or treble switch.

  • New Neuromarketing Sound Frequency
  • Reference:

    Sunaga, T. (2018). How the sound frequency of background music influences consumers’ perceptions and decision making. Psychology & Marketing, 35(4), 253-267.


    Further Reading

    • Why a Pumping Bass Makes You Yearn for Black Sweaters

      Why a Pumping Bass Makes You Yearn for Black Sweaters

      We don’t like to admit it, but as humans we do a pretty bad job at controlling our attention. Sure, we can actively choose to maintain or divert our focus after something has captured our attention. But we hardly understand why it grabbed our eyes in the first place.

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