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Your Subconscious Is Being Bewitched by Music and You Don’t Even Know It

What do Marketers do with sound to gain customers?

Photo by Michael Dziedzic from Unsplash

When you see a price tag with a discount on it you might think that it’s a trick to lure you into buying that product. You can see many psychological maneuvers used to make people spend more money than they initially intended to.

But what happens when marketers use music as one of those persuasion schemes to get you hooked on their brand?

Do we even realize what they’re doing to us? Most of it happens on a subconscious level so we’re unaware of its effects on our psyche, but that’s about to change.

First, let’s take a look at how we perceive music.

Once we learn how we process information like music we can dive deep into how customers choose and interact with brands using music as their tool of influence.

So how does music work on people?

There are two ways in which music is processed according to Binet & Field (2013):

1. High attention pathway

2. Low attention pathway

You’ll see that each one may be used for different purposes depending on the strategy at hand. Once you know how each of these pathways work, you’ll know when brands use them on us.

We are actively engaged with what we hear

When we’re actively engaged in analyzing different musical aspects we’re putting a great deal of attention towards music. We’re noticing the interplay between instruments, listening to the lyrics, or focusing on any other detail from the music itself.

This corresponds to the conscious and logical way of processing information or also known as the high attention pathway.


Let’s use jingles as an example of how brands appeal to people’s rational mindset.

Jingles are short commercial songs that use lyrics or musical hooks to explicitly promote the brand’s products or services. They’re both informative and entertaining, and they help boost the brand’s recall.

During the Great Depression (1930s, US), Pepsi was able to overcome the crisis thanks to its famous “Nickel, Nickel” jingle, even doubling its profits!

In this ad, Pepsi announced that with the same 5 cents people used to buy a 177cc can they could now get one double the size. This was a major turn amongst their competitor still selling 177cc cans. Their revenue skyrocketed thanks to the creative way in which they informed their audience about this change.

Jingles had their boom in the 1950s and since then their use has declined significantly. One of its downsides is that it’s a musical form that’s been overused and it doesn’t appeal to consumers as it once did.

When do brands use this form of persuasion?

The high attention pathway encourages short-term behaviors rather than long-lasting relationships with the brand.

That is, using music that enhances the rational messaging of a product or service is effective to generate immediate sales, but if you manage to appeal to the customer’s emotions, you’ll be more effective to turn it into a long-term profit.

Emotions are the key to people’s wallets, but we’ll dive into that in just a sec.

However, there are instances in which brands will want to use music through a high attention pathway:

  • When advertising special sales
  • When advertising discounts or changes in the price of their product/service
  • When trying to get people to remember their brand

However, brands shouldn’t expect an emotional connection with their consumers. It’ll be rather low or non-existent.

So let’s see music’s most profound influence on the human psyche.

We don’t realize it but music is tickling our emotions and oh boy, it feels intense

Photo by Eric Nopanen from Unsplash

Here’s the other side of the spectrum. On this side, music will not be consciously perceived. Marketers are using the low attention pathway to get under our skin.

And that’s a good thing (from their side at least). Music will be there but people will let it pass by without regarding it at all.

For instance, when people watch a TV or an online ad they usually don’t pay attention to the music. Well, unless it really stands out, like with a loud sound, or a strange sound effect that captures our attention. But that’s usually an exception to the rule.

Thanks to this unawareness, music is processed unconsciously without passing by the usual rational filters (e.g. “is this a Beatles’ song in a soap ad?”; “I hate this song!” etc.).

And this is where the music gets really powerful.

You don’t know it but music is slowly crawling into your emotional kingdom

Imagine the following example that illustrates the influence of the unconscious on our behavior.

Let’s say you get a small hand injury. You might start grabbing a pen differently because if you grab it as you used to, it hurts. It’s just an annoyance, but you’ve already changed not only how you hold your pen but your writing style.

Just slightly.

And after a while, the injury heals but you still maintain that behavior. It’s a subtle but effective change.

Music does something similar when it’s unconsciously perceived. If you make a short story ad with music giving a profound emotional imprint to the image, you’re getting under the consumer’s skin without him/her even noticing.

Those emotions are associated with the brand by presenting the emotional ad and the brand’s name together, even if it doesn’t make sense in the beginning.

It will make sense with time.

Look at this story-driven ad from Johnnie Walker. The portrayal of fond memories between two brothers is enhanced with a piano melody in the background. You’re not really aware of it, but music helps you relate to the story at hand.

Or look at this short film from Lacoste I’ve arranged with my own music composition. Music is used to support this romantic and adventurous travel through time between a soon-to-be young couple.

Your focus is on the amazing shots and storyline, and music is being processed unconsciously. But without it, you wouldn’t have that chilling sensation through your spine (I hope), and Lacoste’s ad would be just another commercial among many more.

Those feelings from experiencing that ad will also transfer to the brand it’s promoting. If it’s done right, people will also develop positive emotions towards the brand.

Just by mere association!

What can science tell us about music’s influence on our unconscious mind?

A study found that effective ads are the ones that have a strong emotional response from the audience and these are even stronger when they have music in it.

If these same ads were run without music, they were perceived as less emotional. The curious part is that the emotional response was measured by relying on an unconscious and uncontrolled response from the participants…their sweat glands.

Measuring how much their hands sweat (on a subtle level) with a skin conductance device, researchers knew how strong the viewer’s emotional response was to the ad. You can’t really cheat and make your hands sweat less (or more).

You can always say that the ad moved you without meaning it, but when it comes to the body’s response, it’s not so easy faking it.

Ads that literally got under the participant’s skin were the most effective ones and these have shown to increase sales effectiveness by up to 30%.

Emotions sell.

Older folks, here’s a musical spell thrown on your emotions

Photo by aitoff from Pixabay

Let’s look at a perfect example of this emotional approach to advertisement with Adam&eveDDB Communication Company.

They’ve been doing very emotional ads for the British high-end department store company, John Lewis & Partners, for a while now.

They usually do covers of well-known songs, like Queen’s famous Bohemian Rhapsody in this commercial which they reenact it in a school playset.

They found a clever way to appeal both to an older generation and a younger one by doing a modern representation of this famous song. They managed to charm the old Queen fans and also attract new clients that were not particularly familiar with the band.

Did you think they were being cute with this commercial?

Well yes, but they knew exactly what they were doing. Emotions were their weapon of choice, their gateway to their customer’s brand recall and loyalty.

When do brands use this form of persuasion?

Here are some ways brands use music through a low attention pathway:

  • Story-like commercials
  • In-store music experiences (at a supermarket, retail store, restaurant, etc.)
  • In movies, videogames, documentaries
  • Personalized playlists (boarding music inside airplanes, buses, ferries)
  • Virtual reality experiences (tours in museums, theme parks, etc.)
  • Corporate videos and events (in training, milestone inspirational clips, internal TV news showcases, annual company presentations, ceremonies)
  • Music collaborations between a brand and specific artists (remember Queen?)

So keep an eye (or an ear) next time you’re interacting with the brand in these kinds of situations.

What can brands do with sound during coronavirus times?

A recent study looked at how people perceived brands during the covid-19 pandemic and how a brands’ sound logo helped or hindered that perception.

Researchers assessed 16 sonic signatures, brief sound sequences that distinguish a brand, and found some intriguing results that companies could apply in these challenging times.

Since people stayed at home quarantined and spent more time on Netflix, it’s “ta-dah” sound intro had been heard quite a lot. However, the overexposure to this sound had decreased its emotional appeal to customers by 10%. Meaning that brands should be careful not to bombard their customers with their sound identity in all their touchpoints and avoid turning the experience into something ordinary.

Now on the “what to do” side, the study showed that people are eager to feel a sense of hope for the future so brands could help them attain this feeling with uplifting music. However, the negative emotions elicited by McDonald’s sonic logo for its too upbeat and carefree sound suggest that brands shouldn’t exaggerate this feeling and make it sound too happy.

It might have the opposite effect.

These short melodies should have the following components:

  • Be appropriate for the situation we’re facing: meaning sounds that capture the current worldwide struggle and reflect brands’ awareness of the situation.
  • Convey support and hope to people’s emotional turmoil: include a message for people to keep looking ahead and remain brave despite the uncertainty and difficulties they’re going through.
  • Adapt the sonic logo to the different brand’s touchpoints: companies can make different versions of the sound logo to keep things interesting for the audience and know when to include them and when to market without them.

Here you’ll find the sixteen sonic logos that were assessed. Look for the following as good examples to try to emulate: T-Mobile, Alzheimer Association, and Abbott.


By making positive associations with their brand, companies take the first step to develop a long-lasting relationship with their customers. And music can do the job quite nicely.

Marketers use music in their marketing campaigns because they know that their message can penetrate the conscious barrier and reach depths that no other stimuli can reach in our minds.

All the filters we use to judge information coming in are bypassed by music. Music can really hijack our minds without us even knowing it and somehow we find ourselves being lured into feeling things we didn’t expect in the first place.

Marketers know (or are starting to realize) the power of music.

Remember the study I mentioned earlier? The one that showed that an ad’s performance depends on the emotional arousal you can get from your audience. If the advertising campaign manages to thrill the customer, sales can increase by up to 30%.

However, a marketing campaign will be incomplete if the brand doesn’t know the role music will play for its target audience.

Is it going to help calm them down? Bring back a fond memory? Or inspire them to take that big step they’re scared to take?

The key is to be able to use music strategically and reach out to people with a clear intention in mind.

Unleash the music into the mind and see the results for yourself.

By Pavle Marinkovic on .

Are you curious about the world of sound and music? Learn how music can enhance a plant’s growth, the way sound changes our sense of taste, understand the music industry, and much more! Join my newsletter to embark on this journey of sound awareness.

If you were interested in this article, I recommend you follow this link: Audiobranding


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