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If Music Be The Food Of Love, Play On

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In the month of love, the words from the immortal bard have never been so relevant. But, let’s get one thing straight before we go any further; I don’t love you.

We’re not married, at best we’re dating, but it’s just a casual affair. It’s not exclusive. We’re both free to see other people. Well, I am at least. I expect you on the other hand to love me unconditionally.

It’s no longer about making yourself known to me, or making me seek you out at a time and place chosen by you. It’s about you engaging and creating a relationship with me. It’s about showing your appreciation. Making me feel special. Putting me at the centre of your strategic universe – responding to my needs and not your own operational requirements. Showing me that you genuinely value and understand me, then you will see my devotion.

I want to be wooed. No, I demand to be wooed. How you do this can differentiate you. If you don’t, someone else will. Don’t make yourself vulnerable. “’Customer love’ is a better sign of success than revenue or profit,” says Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, in a shift in corporate mind-set.

But, there is a way. A way to engage me fast!

Contrary to popular myth, neuroscience has proven that the most important organ for love is the brain, not the heart. When in love our dopamine production sky-rockets, sending quite literally an intense rush of pleasure through us. Stimulating ‘pleasure, desire, euphoria and reward’ causes a chemical-like craving, even addiction. Love is one of the most powerful emotions a person can experience.

But, there is a shortcut. Recent research showed that listening to your favourite music has a similar effect on your brain as love. No matter the type of music. Brain scans reveal that when you listen to music that excites you, your brain springs into action and releases dopamine during the most exciting moments, and even for well-known songs in anticipation of those moments. When listening to our favourite songs, our bodies display all the symptoms of emotional arousal.

There is an increasing body of research that suggests that music has biological roots, just like language, that we are hardwired to enjoy and to engage in music just as we are hardwired for language. That we have inherited from our Neanderthal ancestors our compulsion to be involved in music (Steven Mithen, archaeologist at the University of Reading in his book The Singing Neanderthals) and that music came first, then language.


Hearing is the first of our five senses to develop in the womb. By the 16th week, a foetus can recognise the sound of its mother’s heartbeat. Two to three-day old babies have been found to detect the beat in music. Infants between five months and two years have a predisposition to move rhythmically in response to music. The more synchronised they are, the more they smile.

Every documented human culture has its own form of music. It’s an extremely powerful weapon to gain the hearts and minds of your customers. Music can make us smile or cry, it can engage, inspire, unite us. It has the power to transform us, to create memories, to speak directly to our emotions. Would this scene from my favourite love film have worked so well with different or no music?

Or this car chase?

Or this one?

We can identify what kind of music we’re hearing, whether it’s opera or jazz from as little as a 20th of a second of sound. It can motivate us to buy a product when combined with the right ad and helps brands build an exclusive position in the mind of their customers. What brands spring immediately to mind on hearing “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” or “O’ Fortuna from Carmina Burana” or “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” or “In the Air Tonight” or “Air on a ‘G’ String by Bach”? Answers below!

Research into the impact of music on our buying decisions further illustrates its power. The infamous wine test in a UK supermarket demonstrated that music influenced behaviour through emotional priming rather than rational messaging.


A similar study played classical music and Top 40 music in a wine cellar (Areni & Kim, 1993). Classical music primed thoughts of sophistication and affluence leading to customers buying more expensive wine than Top 40 music. Another determined that taste perceptions of wine were influenced measurably by type of music played whilst tasting.

But, music doesn’t just affect taste perceptions. It can influence shopper behaviour too. A test in a sports retail chain showed that the type of music played in-store influenced customer’s perception of the store’s atmosphere – upbeat, fast tempo led to ‘cool and modern’, while slow rock led to ‘tired and dull’. Studies in supermarkets, restaurants and bars have discovered that musical tempo, volume and customer’s music preferences are strong influencers on length of stay, amount spent, types of products bought and image perceptions. Further studies in a voucher processing centre showed increased staff productivity and morale when fast music was played.

Various recent research studies have shown that ad campaigns with music achieved better results than ones without; the right music increased attention and understanding, enhanced enjoyment and emotional response, aided memorability and recall, created positive associations between brands and popular songs, enhanced key messages, influenced intention and propensity to buy, and most importantly increased sales.

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Radiocentre, the UK trade body for commercial radio, conducted extensive studies in October 2015 on how music can enhance brand communication utilising desk research, industry experts and neuroscience and semiotic specialists. From this they developed a semiotic based tool to help you think about what your brand might sound like and how you can link your brand values to feelings through music; The Brand Music Navigator. The tool is meant to be a conversation starter between Brand Owner and agency, and a set of questions to steer the conversation have also been developed – Helpful Questions for Creating Brand Music.

But why do so many brands not have a music strategy? According to research by Radiocentre, only 17% of advertisers claim to have audio brand guidelines, versus 86% with visual brand guidelines. Why is music treated purely as a secondary executional tool?

Working with music is complex, but by using it strategically it has the potential to unlock so much love.

  1. Do you know what your Brand sounds like?
  2. Play with the tool Radiocentre has created. It’s fun!
  3. Start a conversation with your creative agencies. Answer the questions that have been developed. Form a joint point of view.
  4. Build music into your brand strategy.
  5. Create audio brand guidelines. What are your brands dos and don’ts for music selection? Choosing the wrong music could have a detrimental effect.

Answers: Coca-Cola, Old Spice, Levi 501’s, Cadbury Dairy Milk and Hamlet Cigars

There is 1 comment

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  1. Khaled Omer

    This is a really great article.
    I guess the impact of music on our buying decisions confirms its power again. One interesting point in this article was the research findings of Radiocentre that only 17% of advertisers have audio brand guidelines, versus 86% with visual brand guidelines. It is amazing how music is commonly treated as a secondary tool, despite its power. Great article. Thank you for sharing

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