Mapping musical moods to help brands find their sound

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A new project to create an ‘emotional DNA map’ that can predict the subconscious impact music used in marketing has on consumers will be led by Goldsmiths, University of London researchers and sonic branding testing company SoundOut.

Photo shows a pile of vinyl records

Insights from the project, which will involve analysing data from 500,000 people, could be used by brands and advertising agencies to select music that will trigger the desired subconscious emotional associations and responses from consumers.

It is estimated that over 30% of internet searches in 2020 were voice powered and voice-powered shopping is set to grow to £29bn worldwide by 2022. This change in consumer behaviour means brands have fewer opportunities to make an emotional impact with consumers through logos, video and other traditional advertising media alone. This has led to rapid growth in the demand for sound as a core asset for brands (‘sonic branding’). 

SoundOut and Goldsmiths psychologist Dr Daniel Müllensiefen have been awarded £400,000 in support from Innovate UK’s Smart, an open grant funding programme, to undertake the research. 

The Goldsmiths team will measure people’s subconscious reactions to hundreds of different musical compositions, with SoundOut using advanced data science and machine learning to create a commercial tool that can accurately predict the implicit impact any new piece of music would have with its commercial branding. 

Using data from some 500,000 consumers, a full benchmarking system against 200 personality attributes will be created, enabling brands to measure how closely any given piece of music resonates or matches with some 200 core brand values, such as trust, innovation, or freedom. These benchmarks will be created using Dr Daniel Müllensiefen’s experimental psychology methods which measure emotional associations to different sounds and the memorability of audio assets. 

The project will create a new gold standard for music testing in the context of advertising and sonic branding, ensuring effective and efficient allocation of resources for brands worldwide.

Several other sonic branding agencies from around the world have agreed to collaborate on the project, providing hundreds of original music compositions. 

David Courtier-Dutton, SoundOut Founder and CEO said: “With the rapid growth of voice assistants and voice activated devices, music and voice are increasingly being recognised as a core brand asset that, used correctly, can help to build brand equity.  

“Choosing the correct music for any given brand execution has historically been highly subjective and this project will create an immensely powerful platform to bring rigour and objectivity to the entire sonic branding industry.” 

Professor Daniel Müllensiefen, co-founder of the Music, Mind and Brain research group in the Department of Psychology at Goldsmiths, is the project’s academic lead investigator. He has extensive experience as a music and advertising consultant and considers this project to be a unique chance for the industry. 

Professor Müllensiefen said: “For many years academia has been far ahead of industry in understanding the psychology of music and its impact on consumer behaviour and we are delighted to have secured this very competitive grant from Innovate UK together with SoundOut. 

“The grant represents a unique opportunity to conduct research of a size and breadth that will not only add significantly to academic knowledge on consumer behaviour but will also add meaningful value to brands and agencies worldwide.”

Innovate UK is part of UK Research and Innovation, and funds business and research collaborations to accelerate innovation and drive business investment into research:

Find out more about the Music, Mind and Brain research group at Goldsmiths:

Find out more about SoundOut: