Music / Product Placement strategies

Music in ads: do brands neglect the effectiveness of congruency?

For years, brands have integrated music in their promotion campaigns. It is now a common knowledge that music can influence consumers’ behaviors. However, even if most brands include the importance of its impact in their communication strategies, many of them seem to neglect the factors that enhance these effects.

Spoiler alert: this article may contain some x-rated metaphorical words and sarcastic comments…


Before starting a subject on the role of “bands” placement and endorsement, it is important to focus on the effect of congruency between an advertisement (as well as the congruency of the brand, product,values, message and targeted audience) and music. We could also call it a ‘musical fit’.

Music has been integrated in advertisements for years and research findings allow us to better understand its impact. Music can reinforce the message of an ad and convey emotions and values. It is a tried and tested instrument that influences perceptions in many ways.

Lately, most ads feature music that seem chosen for its popularity rather than for its congruency. In most processes, a brand works along with music synchronization agencies or labels to integrate music within an advertisement. The use of artist catalogues might have an impact on the lack of congruency as we can suppose that they will select among a limited number of artists with a priority given to the popularity, novelty and trend (and their own communication goals, let’s be honest…).

At the end, what we witness on tv and/or on internet are hundred’s of ads featuring the same songs, famous songs and trendy artists. Hopefully, sometimes we can see great –few- examples of musical fit, as for example this French ad for Renault Twizy featuring David Guetta – Alphabeat:

(No personal taste – song, artist, or brand – is involved here…)

Thus, we believe that, lately, many brands neglect the impact of musical fit and seem to forget to include consumers as part of their communication strategies.

The choice of music for an ad must be –normally- done carefully as, according to Zander (2006), it creates attention, transports implicit and explicit messages, generates emotions and helps one retain information. Zander also states that previous explanations of musical effects in advertising can be attributed to three predominant concepts: the classical conditioning paradigm, the Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), and the concept of musical fit.

Classical conditioning paradigm – how to use affect and preference

Classical conditioning implies that pairing a product with a well-liked piece of music will produce an association between the two, and therefore a preference for the product. (Zander, 2006) Many brands seem to have integrated this association and its conditioned response. The ads featuring M83 – Midnight City, C2C – Down The Road, or Metronomy – The Look, are an example of how famous and well-liked songs are used in ads, despite their lack of congruency with the message. (it also reminds us why, here in France, we’ve started getting bored of these songs…)

(If you live in the City, never forget to wash your laundry at Midnight… If don’t respect these rules, the germs might turn into bad angry germs, invade your flat and start singing “New York, New York” while you’ll try to destroy them with natural light…)

(Down The Road from outer space, man! Scratching is the future… Oh, wait! Is Herbie Hancock from space? I mean, in 1983, ‘Rock It’ featured scratching and turntablist techniques…)

(30 secondes to announce…”big projects”? (The)Look at how they have absolutely nothing to say… Now, I’m just afraid a giant hand will grab my car next time I decide to visit grandma…)

Gorn’s experiment (1982) showed that, through pairing two pens of different colors with both well-liked and disliked music, 79% of the subjects chose the pen with music they liked. This underlines the impact of the affect the target has for the music, creating a conditioned reaction. However, limits have been found when other examinations (Pitt and Abratt, 1988; Allen and Madden, 1985) have shown that it was not possible to create such conditioned responses for products of higher personal relevance (e.g: condoms). The personal experience and affect with the product are factors that represent limits to this paradigm. Middlestadt et al. (1994) found that music was able to spotlight different features of products, to influence the recipients’ feelings, and influence their beliefs. These results underline a need, for the brand, to consider the likeability of a song as much as the affective reactions they want to generate.

ELM – how to create attitudes and emotions

By integrating music in advertisements, brands try to rely on consumers’ behaviors, emotions and preferences, which are parts of our behavioral, affective and cognitive experiences. The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) (Petty and Cacioppo; 1981, 1983) can give an understanding of how consumers’ attitudes are processed.

The ELM postulates two ways of changing or creating one’s attitudes: a central route and a peripheral one. Attitudes are influenced through the central route when the audience has the motivation, opportunity and ability to carefully process information about a product. The likelihood of elaboration is high and the person is in a state of high involvement with the product. If there is no motivation, opportunity or ability to process the product information, the peripheral route of persuasion remains in the foreground. When a consumer is in a state of low involvement with the product, attitudes are formed less by active thinking about the object and its characteristics than by positive or negative associations with the object caused by music. In a state of high involvement, the tendency of music to evoke emotion should disturb the recipients’ purpose to elaborate the information within a commercial.

Looking at these findings we might suppose that brands have to decide either to focus on the information they want to convey or on the emotion they want to create. If brands want to give importance to the information, the music should not disturb the processing. Olsen (2002) states that information without sound is better recalled than information highlighted with music. We could also suppose that a discrete music would improve the recall of information, unless the music fits with the ad and seems relevant, as suggest MacInnis and Park (1991). We could also state that it is maybe better to focus on the attitudes created by the music when the brand has no important message to convey…

Warning : this fragrance does not contain naked women, mythological figures, Kanye West saliva or pheromones, but only mandarin, mint, grapefruit,…

Musical Fit – how to create relevancy that won’t scare the consumer away

MacInnis and Park state (1991: 162): “Although it is part of the advertising execution, music that fits the ad can be conceptualized as a message-relevant executional cue because it supports and reinforces the basic advertising message”.

Nowadays, congruency has been overshadowed by the popularity of the music and the desire to reach the largest target instead of the right ones. (Always looking for the biggest one… ) Brands show an increasing desire to follow trends, to be the most popular rather than the most relevant, and to get rid of their competitors by actually aligning to them…

For example this 2013 ad, showing an anti-wrinkle product, is synchronized with a 2011 famous French electro song Makes The Girl Dance – Kill Me , ignoring the need of congruence between the product and the music values. The product target represents women with skin-aging concerns, supposedly above thirty-years-old. (If not, you should consider having a chat with your teenager) The ad conveys an image of an active woman, who wants to “stay young” and can combine a promising career to a wild-party-blooming life without even looking tired. The song reaches a much younger audience (let’s include the kidults), both masculine and feminine, with a different lifestyle and who are not really concerned by the aging process of the body. (If not, again, you should consider having a chat with your teenager) Even if the music conveys an idea of youth, the values involved do not match with the message.

(None of my colleagues came to congratulate me at work for not sleeping on my chair… So unfair…)

if you’re not convinced, just imagine the same woman doing what the band does in the video… not that dazzling at work after a week-end like this one…

Different musical styles may provide different information for the same product. Car ads, for example (high-involvement product), can feature different musical styles as they can convey different beliefs. This Peugeot ad, using an electro dream-pop song, Jabberwocky – Photomaton, underlines consumers’ beliefs considering technology (Pinocchio as a robot), comfort (dreamy sensation, reinforced by the metaphor of the tale), and a supposed security of the car, whereas, in the BMW ad, the classical music underlines beliefs about luxury, space and elegance.

(As many men, after driving an amazing car Pinocchio gets a nasal boner…)

As both songs are congruent, they would make sense in their aim to transport relevant information about the car.

Zandler’s study (2006) shows that impressions of the brand could be manipulated by means of specific music pieces. It also shows that a musical fit (product message-congruent music) also leads to different reactions. Even though the subjects’ perception of endorser and brand varied, the evaluation of the product remained constant. Consequently, different music changes the focus of our perception without inhibiting positive reactions to a commercial when fit is given. I’m really sorry to address this ethical issue, but… His study also underlines a difference in the perception of music between men and women. Music seems to have a different effect on males and females.

In search of fitting music, advertisers are therefore confronted with even more complex challenges. (Maybe it is time to question who your consumers are and what musical styles they like, instead of just pleasing yourself, oh you dirty brand…)

We have not found any study on the subject, but we can make the hypothesis that the choice of music and endorser (the artist) can also impact the audience’s attitudes towards the advertisement. It would be interesting to further examine how an artist/band can play a role of endorser. However, most music placements are “one-shot deals”, only few brands try to develop sustainable partnerships.

Music in advertising is not simply about “let’s do something trendy with great music that people like to make them buy our products” or “let’s use this song because it’s famous and we’ll look swag” (whatever this word means…). If brands want to reach a “fit”, music has to be considered and used in a more differentiated way. A musical fit has more impact on the consumer than just putting him into a good mood as it can convey more information on the brand than words can in 30 seconds.

Well, consumers’ emotions and mechanisms are often neglected, aren’t they?


Allen, C. T. and Madden, T. J. (1985) ‘A closer look at classical conditioning’, Journal of
Consumer Research 12: 301-315.

Gorn, G. J. (1982) ‘The effect of music in advertising on choice behavior: a classical conditioning approach’, Journal of Marketing, 46: 94-101.

MacInnis, D. J. and Park, C. W. (1991) ‘The differential role of characteristics of music on highand low-involvement consumers’ processing of ads’, Journal of Consumer Research 18: 161-173.

Middlestadt, S. E., Fishbein, M. & Chan, D. K-S. (1994) ‘The effect of music on brand attitudes: Affect- or belief-based change?’ in E. M. Clark, T. C. Brock and D. W. Stewart (eds) Attention, attitude, and affect in responses to advertising, pp. 149-168. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Olsen, G. D. (2002) ‘Salient stimuli in advertising: The effect of contrast interval length and type on recall’, Journal of Experimental Psychology 8: 168-179.

Petty, R. E. and Cacioppo, J. T. (1981) Attitudes and Persuasion: Classic and Contemporary
Approaches. Dubuque, IA: William C. Brown.

Petty, R. E., Cacioppo, J. T. and Schumann, D. T. (1983) ‘Central and peripheral routes to
advertising effectiveness: the moderating effect of involvement’, Journal of Consumer Research 10: 135-146.

Pitt, L. F. and Abratt, R. (1988) ‘Music in advertisements for unmentionable products – a classical conditioning experiment’, International Journal of Advertising 7: 130-137.

Zander (2006) ‘Musical influences in advertising: how music modifies first impressions of product endorsers and brands’, Psychology of Music, october, 34: 465-480.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s