Our music says a lot about us. A glance into your playlist reveals clues about your age, cultural upbringing, coping styles, beliefs and values. Based on the strong relationship between personality and music, it is reasonable to assume that music achieves similar representation for brands. And it absolutely does. 

More than an advert

When talking about music and brand representation, it is important to separate adverts vs. brand image as they work use different psychological principles. 

First let’s look briefly at music in advertising. There will be an unbreakable link in your long term memory between at least one piece of music and a product. You may instantly recall products if you heard, (links for the answers), In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins, I Just Want To Make Love To You by Etta James, any John Lewis advert (e.g. Ellie Goulding Your Song) and, since I’m from Yorkshire, Dvorak's 'New World' symphony rearranged for Brass

Music for advertising is only one kind of commercial music association. The psychological principle here is good old classical conditioning, as in Pavolv’s dogs. Over time we create a pairing in our minds between a sound and an object such that hearing the sound triggers thoughts of the product/ action towards acquiring it. Music in adverts should ‘fit’ the brand– more about this in a minute - but in the case of advertising, music is designed mainly as a memory trigger as well as be enjoyable, to associate fun and laughter (or tears) with the product. 

Music for branding

Music branding is the concept of placing a style of music or, less commonly, a specific piece of music (this works less well as people get bored of repetition) in spaces in order to symbolise brand identity. Ideally, brand music is timeless, designed to last beyond any one product or campaign, as well as to be easily updatable as music trends shift over time. The music represents the brand in the wider world and as such it is designed towards the company concept and values, in much the same way as our playlists represent who we are as a person. 

How is a music-brand link created?

Music branding effects have been linked to the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM). Proposed in the 80s by Petty and Cacioppo, ELM predicts how our attitudes can be shifted by two routes; a central and a peripheral. The central persuasion route requires that there be motivation, opportunity and ability to process new information about a product carefully. When there is a lower state of involvement – when your mind isn’t focused - then the peripheral route is at work. 

Park and Young suggested that music effects work best in a peripheral state, when the person isn’t actively considering the product but instead is influenced by positive or negative music associations. As predicted by ELM, music influences people best in a state of lower involvement and disturbs people in a state of high involvement. 

Be careful with ‘fit’

ELM makes important predictions for choosing brand music. First, music has to be subtle. Music that demands high processing will distract from the product plus it will drain focus, resulting in a negative association that drags a black cloud of rejection over brand concept. 

ELM also explains the idea of music brand ‘fit’. When the feel of a piece of music aligns with brand concept – when the semantics are congruous - then peripheral processing will engage. Studies have shown that, impressions of a brand could be altered significantly by music in this state and revenue can increase. Depending just on the music used, the same brand can impart concepts as diverse as softness and silence vs. strength and arousal.

Three care steps for music-branding:
1. Do the leg work (research) 

Many assume that music has fixed associations, to reflect values such as “luxury”, “peace”, “dynamic” or “down to earth”. But music rarely represents one concept as it isn’t referential or meaningful in the same way as language. For this reason it is vital to do research to understand music’s semantic associations on a large group of people in the current market rather than rely on past assumptions or prior testing.  

2. Avoid using well-known music

If you accept that music links to brands then you must also acknowledge that it can create personal negative associations. Music may represent a loss, a tragedy, a poor relationship, it could have been woven into any negative life event. These hidden memory bombs can be avoided by creating music rather than falling back on existing catalogues. Using less well-known tracks will also mean that when you discover them in a positive way through a brand.

3. Think ‘fit’ and placement

The psychologist Mark Zander said ‘The role music plays must be considered carefully because it attracts attention, transports implicit and explicit messages, generates emotions and helps one retain information’. So selecting the right music for a space is about much more than trying to create positive vibes. 

When you see another person’s playlist it is automatic to assume things about them because music naturally triggers memories, semantics and beliefs. Therefore, careful consideration of music-brand relationship is critical. Whether you like it or not, people make associations based on music choices so it is important to assure that music sends the brand message that you want people to receive.