How audio research has influenced the way products are marketed

11th December 2019

Music has been hypnotising us from as early as the 1770’s when the German physician, Franz Anton Mesmer used ‘Animal magnetism’ which is more commonly know as mesmerism. Mesmer determined that ‘animal magnetism’ was an invisible natural force possessed by all living things and he believed that it has physical and healing effects. Mesmer regarded it to be a ‘sympathetic vibration’ and argued that it could be communicated and reinforced by sounds. Mesmer used pianos, violins, harps and glass harmonicas in his work and reported multiple accounts of musical hallucinations. It is this exact principle of overwhelming and over-riding the self-control of listeners, that is important in the application of music in today’s marketing.

An English psychiatrist named William Sargant applied the knowledge of conditioned responses found by Pavlov and Charcot, a French neurologist who operated in the 1800s and discovered links between neural conditions and lesions in the central nervous system. More important was his research on hysteria (which was later taken up by his pupil Sigmund Frued) and into the dangers of musical brainwashing. Pavlov, Charcot and Sargant all stated that our will is vulnerable to external stimuli (very reductionist) which lead him to research and conclude that the effects of jazz and rock ’n’ roll pose a serious threat to the human mind. Additionally, in the 1980s a mass panic spread about the ability to record messages backwards on a record/CD which had subliminal messages which would tap into our unconscious mind. A market researcher by the name, James Vicary (in 1957) claimed to have proven the potential of subliminal messages in music, with examples like the Beatles using ‘backmasking’ (recording messages backwards) or even the TV series, Mr.Ed which supposedly had ‘Someone sing this song for satan’ intertwined (backwards) in their theme tune. More worryingly, Jacob Aranza suggests that the brain would reject phrases like ‘Satan is God’ but would be decoded (in the right hemisphere) and stored as a fact if the phrase was backmasked. With that being said, you should be reassured that there is not much evidence that people can be hypnotised against their will in the practice that brainwashing implies. There are also several other factors that are responsible for the processing of the messages such as the free will vs determinist debate and stages of development in the brain which would not allow for backmasked messages to be internalised.

However, using this knowledge it would become more clear whether companies use rhythmic audio to leave some sort of residue in our brain. It is not only the audio played on a company’s advert but also the audio in their stores or website. Using a thesis done by Kaitlyn V. Neese (submitted in spring 2015 from the Liberty university) on the correlation between marketing and music, it becomes clear that the 1939 jingle for ‘Pepsi-Cola hits the spot’ was the first mass market appeal to some sort of musical influence proposed by a company. It was played in millions of jukeboxes around American and became very popular. The short and catchy jingle meant that it had a wide appeal, much like the product. She also identifies other musical factors like the voice, atmosphere and theme of music that has an affect on the buyer. Most importantly, she suggests the effect of music on the mood of the buyer.  The term mood is a temporary state of mind or feeling, which if the music can manipulate can be the difference between purchasing a single product or multiple products. ‘The music has the power to change the mood of customers’ as it can make them feel better about buying a certain product. Conclusively, it would appear that the use of music in marketing is less of controlling or brainwashing the mind of customers but to entice the customer to provide a better service, which will lead to repeat purchases.

By Ethan Svirsky


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