Influencing behaviour through background music

Many research studies in many different countries have concluded that music can influence desired behavioural responses in subjects in everyday life. 

If used correctly, music can potentially be a very powerful tool for almost every kind of organisation. There are broadly four contexts in which this is true of music. 

1. Encouraging a positive attitude towards a product by associating it with emotionally connecting music. Think the Cadbury’s Flake commercial.

2. Improving the comprehension of a message by syncing it with congruent music. Many commercials with a call to action employ music that lyrically reinforces the message

3. Changing the tempo of human activity through beats per minute and volume. Playing slower and softer music can encourage customers to stay longer and spend more money (see examples below). 

4. Shifting the listener’s emotional state to encourage a different behaviour. According to research by Entertainment Media Research, four in five people frequently listen to music to deliberately put themselves in a more positive frame of mind 

Probably the most well-known example of a music research experiment was conducted by North, Hargreaves and McKendrick. This involved playing a mixture of French and German music next to a supermarket display of French and German wines over a two week period. When French music was played, French wine outsold German wine by five bottles to one. Conversely when German music was played, German wine outsold French wine by nearly two bottles to one.

A similar experiment was conducted by North and Yeoh in Malaysia. Students were given a choice of Malaysian or Indian food after being played music from one of the two countries. When Malay music was played, three times as many participants chose Malay than Indian food. When Indian music was played, nearly six times as many respondents chose Indian over Malay food.

The tempo, volume or pitch of the music is another influential variable of direct relevance to retailers. A study on background music by Sullivan carried out in a medium-sized mid-range restaurant found that the playing of soft music led to meal durations 20% longer than when loud music was played and as a consequence the amount of money spent on food in the restaurant was 7.5% higher. A separate study by Caldwell and Hibbert found that when slow music was played in restaurants the time spent dining was 20% longer but 51% more money was spent on drink per head and 12% more on food per head.

Obviously, the research is only as good as the music that is being played. The results from the study by Caldwell and Hibbert correlate with liking for the specific music and there is an excellent account in the featured video on the Music Works homepage of how background music is perceived by shoppers to impact their in-store experiences.

For further information please contact Shaun Austin at Entertainment Media Research Ltd.

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