Impact of advert music on subconscious revealed

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A joint project between SoundOut and Goldsmiths, University of London has revealed the emotional impact of music in advertising on the subconscious mind in the first rigorous study of its kind.

Unlike previous studies, which only used a few tracks, the new research used an entire database of ad music tracks. This enabled the team to model and quantify the effect of different tracks on people’s subconscious. Drawing on over 600,000 consumer responses, the study found the right music can increase the emotional response to a video by up to 16.4%.

The results suggest music is particularly powerful in changing the subconscious response for emotional attributes such as Peaceful, Intense and Defiant – but less so for other attributes such as Technical, Spontaneous and Simple. The team also went on to look at how the subconscious impact of advertising music differs from the conscious response.

SoundOut will use the findings to develop tools that, for the first time, will enable brands and marketeers to have a strategic plan for when and how to use music at both a conscious and subconscious level.

David Courtier-Dutton, Founder and CEO of SoundOut, said: “This research is of an unprecedented scale and depth, leveraging the expertise of some of the pre-eminent music psychologists in the world and inputs from over 600,000 consumers. It delivers a rigorous framework for testing the emotional impact of music, both on a conscious and subconscious basis.

“In branding, advertising and social media, music is rarely, if ever, used in isolation. Instead, it is used to reinforce the mood or narrative of the message being delivered by an advert or marketing initiative and, ideally, the brand personality. As a result, musical effectiveness is principally reliant on emotional synchronisation with visual content to optimise the desired subconscious response. Benchmarking and measurement of this is therefore fundamental to optimising effectiveness.

“SoundOut will now use this research and map of the subconscious emotional DNA of music to develop a suite of tools. These will enable brands to identify the best music choices for brand and marketing impact at both a conscious and subconscious level.”

Professor Daniel Müllensiefen, Co-director of the MSc in Music, Mind and Brain at Goldsmiths, University of London, said: “The ability to run a study of this scale and ambition represents a huge step forward for the use of music in branding and marketing and adds considerably to the scientific understanding of the psychology of music. In addition, it has created a robust academic foundation for testing the subconscious impact of music in the commercial world.”

Seb Silas, a Goldsmiths research scientist working on the project, added: “We intuitively know that music has the ability to influence our mood, and that it is used frequently to guide narrative and elicit certain sentiments in movies and TV. While the role of music in advertising is as pervasive, it has been less understood. Our results show that music even has the power to influence the way we perceive short visual scenes and imagery, like those used in advertising. Moreover, these effects can happen subconsciously in the perceiver, and differ depending on what sentiment you want to target. We are now able to predict such effects in a more detailed way than before, which is extremely useful to academics and practitioners alike.”

The project used a database of database of 215 advertising audio assets and involved individually testing over 3,000 audio/video and audio/image pairings alongside silent control videos in over 100,000 consumer tests where participants were asked to rate the video (not audio) across a standard inventory of emotional attributes. Using a variety of advanced statistical techniques, the impact of the video stimulus was then removed revealing the subconscious (System 1) effect of the music in isolation.

The report, entitled ‘A large-scale investigation into the effects of music in advertising’, builds on SoundOut and Goldsmiths’ previous work mapping the conscious emotional impact that music has on consumers. The study was largely financed by the UK Government’s Innovate Fund.

This article is based on an original SoundOut press release.

Image: Music by Brandon Giesbrecht.