Music and Consumer Behavior


You sit at a fancy restaurant and slowly savor each bite of a gourmet meal while drinking a bottle of wine as some smooth jazz music plays in the background. You walk into a clothing store and they have loud bumping music. It gets you pumped as you quickly sift through to find the shirt you’re looking for. These are two very different scenarios catering to potentially different audiences but both situations show how music plays a role in creating emotions and motivations behind purchasing decisions.

We can all attest to the fact that music does evoke emotions in people, whether it’s a song on the radio that hits you particularly hard that you can relate to, or the film score for a movie that pulls on your heartstrings to feel the emotions felt by the characters on the screen. Fifty percent of every purchasing decision is driven by emotion, so it is no surprise that music, with its ability to influence emotions, is closely tied to consumer behavior.


Music’s Genre and Creating Atmosphere

Out of all the qualities of music, the genre of music playing in the background has the biggest effect on customers’ perceptions of and preferences toward products. There was a study done in 1996 by North and Hargreaves at a university cafeteria. They found that if the customers liked the music they heard in the cafeteria, then they tended to like the cafeteria more and were more likely to return to dine there. Our associations with the music being played while we are shopping, directly affects our perception of the product. Not only will we tend to like the product more because we like the music, but specific genres of music will also change our perception of the products as well. In 1993, Areni and Kim played music from Top-40 to classical music at a wine store to see how it would affect shoppers’ behavior. The results were that playing classical music led consumers to buy more expensive wine because classical music is associated with sophistication, class and more expensive items.

@elizabethharbau I say we style your living room shelves with wall-to-wall wine. Just kidding. (Half kidding.):

Knowing this, it isn’t a surprise that a lot of luxury car commercials often times will have classical music in their commercials for these same reasons.

North and Hargreaves continued their studies in 1999 where they alternated between playing French and German music in a wine store. On the days when they played French music, customers bought more French wine and on days they played German music, customers were more inclined to buy German wine. When questioned about their purchases later, customers were unaware that the music had an impact on their purchasing decisions. Like in film scores, we are often unaware of the music playing in the background, but it has a deep impact on our subconscious feelings and can lead us to make judgement and decisions based on these emotions.

Image result for person drinking in fancy restaurant


Music Tempo

Miliman did a series of interesting studies in 1982 and 1986 on the speed of music being played and the amount of time that consumers spent in a store in relation to that. In 1982, he found that with slower music playing, people shopped more slowly and ended up spending more money. In 1986’s experiment, Milliman played both fast and slow music at an upscale restaurant and found that customers tended to eat faster with faster music playing and slower with slower music playing. Because they ate slower with the slow music, they stayed longer at the restaurant and drank more alcoholic drinks, thus spending more money in the end. Image result for person drinking in fancy restaurant


Music Volume

This one is not completely surprising. Smith and Curnow did an experiment in 1966 where they played loud and soft music in stores. They found that people spent less time in a store when loud music was playing compared to soft music, but interestingly enough, the dollar amount spent by the customers was not significantly different. In 1988,Yalch and Spangenberg‘s study showed that younger customers spend more time with louder and more prominently featured music compared to the opposite for older customers who spend more time when music is softer and more in the background.

Music and Product/Brand Perception

Studies have shown that people tend to want to buy a product if they like the music in the ad compared to music they don’t like or no music at all (Mitchell, 1988; Simpkins & Smith). Similarly, if music that customers like is playing, they tend to enjoy their shopping experience more and think less time has gone by, even if they are spending a while waiting in line. Furthermore, people also tend to buy a product more when the music is fitting and appropriate for the brand or product (Oakes, 2007).


Music, Our Other Senses, and Our Brain

Image result for pleasure arousal in brain

Music also works great in conjunction with your other senses. In Spangenberg, Grohmann and Sprott, 2005, they tested the effect of: Christmas music alone playing in a store, a Christmas scent that permeated the store without the music, and then a combination of the scent and Christmas music playing simultaneously. They found the scent alone had a negative affect on its customers, compared to the scent plus the Christmas music together had a very positive, seasonal, and holistic experience on its customers.

Music can often seal the deal for product branding and perception because it speaks to us in subliminal ways. Why is that? PAD (Pleasure, Arousal, and Dominance), is “a psychological model developed by Albert Mehrabian and James A. Russell (1974 and after) to describe and measure emotional states,” as cited from Wikipedia. Music can often affect the pleasure and arousal centers in our brain that cause us to react or feel a certain way, and thus affect our purchasing decisions.


Tying it All Together

So after hearing all of this, which characteristic of music affects our perception of the product and purchasing decisions the most? It is the genre of the music that is played. The tempo and volume of the music affects how long someone stays in a store, with tempo directly tied to the amount of money spent by customers. Tying it all together from last week’s post about Music Genre and Personality Correlations, the type of music we like is core to who we are and shows correlations with our personality, so it is critical to understand who your target audience is when you play music in your stores or ads. You want your customers to have the best and most enjoyable experience possible; knowing what their taste in music is will help greatly in doing that and will help sell and brand your products more effectively.