Invisible hand of audio marketing

Credit: Adobe Stock
Credit: Adobe Stock

Classical music is associated with luxury goods, while fast-paced music makes consumers shop faster and more impulsively. Dr. Sylwia Makomaska from the Institute of Musicology of the University of Warsaw studies and promotes research into background music and audio marketing based on it.

'Background music is music located on the periphery of the listener's attention. In other words, the listeners do not focus on this stimulus and it is not the object of their active perception', explains the researcher from the University of Warsaw, an expert in the psychology of music, the author of the concept of the popular science blog Music Psychology Zone UW.

This type of music is used in marketing activities, specifically in audio marketing. 'Audio marketing is one of the elements of sensory marketing strategy. Contemporary consumer trade facilities, e.g. shopping malls, are usually designed and built to affect as many of our senses as possible. This includes different kinds of olfactory stimuli, spaces designed to affect the sense of sight, the ability to touch or taste products. All this is usually accompanied by music', Makomaska reminds.

Although music remains in the background in this concept, it is not without significance in the purchasing decision making process. 'Auditory stimuli are deliberately brought into the point of sale to elicit the desired response from consumers; music can control reactions in the recipient at the physiological, affective, cognitive and behavioural levels', she points out.

What types of dependencies can occur? 'If classical music plays in the background at a given point of sale, the recipients will probably start to perceive the place as luxurious, so they will not be surprised by higher prices. In turn, fast-paced music makes us move faster and our purchases will be more impulsive and less thoughtful; it is also a way to increase the flow of customers in the store. Calm, slow music will be conducive to reflection, thanks to which the customer may reach for a more expensive product', says Makomaska.

The musicologist adds that although each person perceives music differently, some mechanisms used in audio marketing have a universal effect. 'The sender uses two main mechanisms. The first is a targeted stimulation mechanism that uses lower levels of musical semantics. The recipient reacts, for example, to the volume level or the pace of the music. The second is the mechanism of directed association, which is based on certain associations, e.g. the music of Fryderyk Chopin in the background, as classical music, is associated with luxury, but also with Poland and Polishness', the researcher points out.

According to Makomaska, audio marketing does not work subliminally, although 'it is very close to manipulation'. 'Audio marketing oscillates dangerously towards manipulation, and that is why, in my opinion, it is so important to make people aware of the existence of these mechanisms that, like an invisible hand, guide our behaviour', she emphasises.

The researcher hopes that broadcasters of music, including the music intended for commercial places, will also take into account the feelings and well-being of the recipients. 'My research, conducted before the pandemic, shows that a person staying in a shopping mall is overstimulated, also in terms of hearing. Spectrographic analysis of recordings made in shopping malls revealed the presence of sounds with frequencies covering almost the entire range of the human hearing. This translates into recipient fatigue and the phenomenon of habituation. We get used to such an acoustic environment, but the consequence may be desensitisation of the recipient', she explains.

According to the musicologist, the pandemic changed trends in audio marketing. 'As recipients, we started to appreciate silence, we learned to stay in it. As a result, in many points of sale, acoustic tracks are no longer as invasive as they used to be', says Sylwia Makomaska.

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