Music Manipulation in Corporate America

Music has been proven to have a strong power over our brains. Particular songs can make us emotional, recall memories, or remind us of someone. Songs can call upon emotions of anger, sadness, and happiness. Music has the effect of intensifying or emphasizing the emotions which a particular event calls forth, by simultaneously coordinating the emotions of a group of people (Storr 24). Music also increases arousal such as alertness, awareness, and excitement. This arousal can cause your pupils to dilate, as well as heighten blood pressure and heart rate (Storr 25). These are involuntary effects give us an indication to the powerful effects music has on our sub-conscious. It is commonly accepted that music has the ability to greatly affect our subconscious, but what happens when it is used within marketing campaigns to manipulate our ideas, thoughts and feelings about a particular company or product? This paper will take a closer look at why companies use music within their marketing campaigns to manipulate us. Taking a look at historical events and multiple studies will offer insight on how music has been used and why companies use music today. The implementation of music can influence product expectations and the connotations of a company. I claim that companies profit off of our subconscious through their use of music, sound, and jingles in marketing initiatives.

Throughout history music has been used both positively and negatively. Understanding the historical references of how music has been used as a persuasive tool will allow insight as to why modern-day marketing tactics have been implemented. There are many instances when music is used for positive reasons and create positive reactions to the listener. Such reasons include lullabies, ceremonies and festivals. Lullabies are one of the most universal forms of music and are found in all cultures (Hargreaves 124). Lullabies are an example of how music can be used for a positive purpose. They have a slow tempo that creates a soothing effect causing the child to calm down or fall asleep. This form of music proves that even the young minds of babies and children are involuntarily affected through sound. Music used at ceremonies and festivals create the atmosphere and set the tone for the crowd. The use of music in African ceremonies may either set the mood for the actions or provide an outlet for the feelings they generate (Hargreaves 129). Music is used across all cultures to induce emotion. Drumbeats may create a mood of mourning for the death of a chief or a sense of pageant for the installation of a new ruler (Hargreaves 129). This is an interesting point that the same instrument can cause different emotions. The contrasting emotions produced from the same instrument are evidence that the emotion music produces for one relies greatly on tempo and its environment. Music commonly corresponds to its environment. Therefore, music causes those listening to feel deeper and reflect about memories that are called upon by the sound.  

Lullabies, ceremonies and festivals are blissful reasons music is used to persuade. However, what about when music is or has been used negatively as propaganda to support unjust motives? Adolph Hitler is a prime example as to how music can be used to change perspectives. Many of Hitler’s tactics were effective because he used peoples’ emotions to his advantage. Also, music is powerful in creating a sense of belonging. Andrew Gregory in his essay The Roles of Music in Society: the Ethnomusicological Perspective, says, “Music is socially meaningful…largely because it provides means by which people recognize identities and places, and the boundaries which separate them” (Hargreaves 131). Hitler would tap into the emotions of fear, anger, and/or patriotism to sway people into being a part of what he believed in. The music he played at events promoted the same powerful messages as the banners he had made and the words he spoke such as an all-powerful German country. The Nazis exercised complete control over the Bund Deutscher Mädel and the Hitlerjugend—youth groups in which participation was compulsory for young girls and boys, respectively, after 1939 (Sweers 74). The Nazis created a songbook the youth would sing and a major portion of the HJ/BDM’s song material was adapted from preexisting sources. The ideas hidden within the songs were alongside Nazi propaganda songs because the lyrics were altered from popular songs (Sweers 75). Hitler used music to psychologically imprint on the younger generation; the music caused fear in some and nationalism in others. In addition to playing National Socialist games simulating plane attacks and war games, songs which glorified Hitler were performed (Sweers 75). We can see these songs were effective because the negative connotations in the songs could be felt generations later. Britta Sweers explains in her essay The Power to Influence Minds: German Folk Music during the Nazi Era and After, “Music associated with the term Volksmusik is viewed problematically in Germany today, and is marginalized largely because of its propagandistic uses during the Nazi era” (Sweers 65). The Nazi regime recognized music as an important tool to organize and control the masses; folk music in particular became a focus of interest (Sweers 71). However, using music within organized movements and as a means of national expression predated the Nazis by several decades (Sweers 67). There were preexisting communist youth groups which were centered around German folk song such as, the Jugendmuiskbetwegung (“youth music movement”), many students involved in this group later volunteered for military service in World War I. The same power that was used years prior is how Hilter used nationalism combined with music to grow his Nazi regime. Sweer goes on to explain that her interviewees remembered marching songs as folk music more vividly than any other type of music, an impact that persists to the present day (Sweers 77). The use of repetition helped to spread Hitler’s power. The music was used to create the great nationalism he believed and ended forever ingrained in people’s memories. He pushed to arousal his audience and made them experience the feelings over and over again (Storr 47). Marching songs especially had the most lasting impact on participants because they could be heard constantly, all over the cities (Sweers 75). One of Sweers interviewees, sixty years after the war, could still recall all the verses from a marching song, “she described it as, being imprinted on her memory forever” (Sweer 75). Songs from Hitler’s time remained engraved in the minds generations later from repetition and the powerful memories associated with the music. This proves the powerful effect music can have on ones decisions and memories. Hitler was a very powerful man and controlled a large amount of people. It is crucial to know music is one avenue Hitler used to gain power, so we can understand how music has been used historically. The historical context shows that companies in today’s world can use music to benefit and gain control within their own market.

Music is used as a tool in marketing and has been integrated into America’s heavily consumer-driven society. America has a huge consumer market and with the popularity of online shopping growing we are able to browse and buy at any second of the day. Overloading the visual cortex with too much similar or identical data gives way to repetition blindness (Pradeep 124). Dr. A. K. Pradeep in his book, The Buying Brain, explains repetition blindness for us:

We’re neurologically programmed to search for differences.
When the brain is presented with a series of repetitive images–
even if there are some differences among them–
repetition blindness sets. The brain no longer “sees” each
individuals images as it would if that image stood alone, or with
only a small number of similar/identical images (Pradeep 181).

Since repeption blindness occurs companies had to find a way to stand out from competitors. Music is a way companies strengthen our memory retention of their products and persona. Music is commonly a powerful mnemonic device which enables us to retain something we normally would forget. Therefore, a company which uses a catchy jingle will connect with consumers. Music enables a company to become distinguished, unique and sets them apart from competitors who have chosen to not implement musical jingles. Americans see many similar products every day, companies were forced to find a way to fight this problem of repetition blindness. Companies had to turn away from our sense of sight and to another sense, sound. Americans have busy schedules and a daily fast paced life. The benefit of sound is companies can get their message across without the consumer even looking up. A companies jingle or song advertising a product can be heard by any passerby when going to lunch or waiting in line at a store. We are unable to fully tune out the environment around us because our subconscious works constantly.

Neuromarketing started appearing around 2002. Neuromarketing promotes the value of looking at consumer behavior from a brain perspective. Christophe Morin in his article Neuromarketing: The New Science of Consumer Behavior, says:

Marketing research methods have aimed to explain and
predict the effectiveness of advertising campaigns. For the
most part, however, conventional techniques have failed miserably.
Since emotions are strong mediators of how consumers process
messages, understanding and modeling cognitive responses to selling
messages has always been a methodological challenge (Morin 132).

Music has a strong connection with emotions and one is unable to separate experience from the emotion about of that time. Therefore, understanding the cognitive responses of something emotional such as music has grown to become a valuable resource for companies. A case study was conducted by Gerald J. Gorn in 1982 which explored the attitude towards a product when classical conditioning was involved. Classical conditioning implies that pairing a product with a liked piece of music should produce an association between the two, and therefore liking for the product (Hargreaves 270). “In this particular study 79% of subjects chose the pen that was associated with the liked music rather than the unliked” (Hargreaves 270). Taste in music varies widely across the world and is dependent on social class, age, gender, ethnic background, and lifestyles. The liked music was an American song from a classic American movie, ‘Grease’ while the unliked music was a classical Indian song. This was considered to be unliked because the subjects could not emotionally understand or connect to the music. The classic “jingle” is the most common musical technique for aiding memorability and thus product recall. Some of the biggest products and companies in the world are successful not just because of customer satisfaction, but also because customers like a particular jingle in an advertisement. A good jingle catches the customer’s attention and makes the consumer think twice about a product because of music mnemonic ability. Whether it be a jingle or the music played in the environment we can understand that music allows companies to persuade us in a particular way.

Music plays a large role in our shopping experience, buying habits, and ideas/feelings about a company. Studies have shown that a slow tempo can lead to us spending more time somewhere, as well as the opposite, a fast tempo can cause us to eat or drink quickly. This means, a restaurant whom played slow music would cause their customers to stay longer and consequently buy more drinks. Playing music with a particular tempo is beneficial for all restaurants. A buffet style restaurant, who charges one price for all you can eat, wants their customers to pay, dine, and leave quickly. Fast tempo music would allow the restaurant to bring in more customers. A study by Charles Areni and David Kim in 1993 suggests of Deborah MacInnis and C. Whan Park’s idea, musical ‘fit’. Musical fit stresses that a good fit between the music and the advertisement has a strong impact on positive emotional response and attitude to the advertisement (Morris 518). The study took place at a wine cellar where classical and Top 40 music was played. Although the music didn’t show a correlation with the number of bottles purchased, the study did prove more expensive wine was purchased when listening to classical music (Hargreaves 275). The particular choice of music can strongly benefit the company, allowing them to ‘control’ your subconscious. Maureen Morrin, PhD, at APA’s 2005 Annual Convention reports of a study that showed the effect music has on impulse buyers. People who tend to make unplanned purchases spend even more freely when shopping in the presence of background music, while contemplative shoppers buy slightly less than usual when music is playing (Dingfelder 1). These are valuable for companies to take into consideration because by evaluating the experience that would make them the most profit would allow them to choose the correct music. The appropriate music will fit into the company’s atmosphere, as well as have an agreeing tempo.

There has been a shift in how emotions are being analyzed. Scholarship suggests that emotions are not feelings or occurrences, but rather they are conceptually tied to behavior (Solomon 24). Does this mean emotion is a choice and more so, since music is tied tightly with emotion are we able to choose how music affects us? Robert Solomon argues that emotions are “a matter of judgment, often moral judgement…and are rash judgments.” (Solomon 28). He interprets that emotions are indeed a choice we make. Solomon says:

By forcing myself to be scrupulous in the search for evidence
and knowledge of circumstance, and by training myself in self-
understanding regarding my prejudices and influences, and by
placing myself in appropriate circumstances, I can determine the
kinds of judgments I will tend to make. I can do the same for
my emotions (Solomon 32).

This is an interesting take on our common knowledge of emotion because we generally believe they are simply our feelings. If emotions are indeed a choice then we should be able to choose how and if music affects us and our decisions.

Many multimillion dollar companies have implemented music into marketing campaigns. These companies include, McDonalds, Coco Cola, K9 Advantix, and Oscar Myer. There is limited information from large corporations on the profits of particular marketing campaigns. Therefore we cannot see how much music benefited company’s profits. However, after researching the studies conducted it is safe to say that particular marketing initiatives have benefited from the use of music because music has a strong influence over our subconscious. The studies prove music helps consumers notice a particular company before competitors or alters the way one experiences an environment. There is no way to eliminate companies using music nor is there a solution to how our brain reacts to music. This research does not argue that the implementation of music in marketing tactics is detrimental to our overall mental health. The research provided displays the importance music plays in modern day marketing campaigns. The historical events of Hitler and the studies conducted bring awareness to the manipulative power music possesses. This paper confirms the notion that music can be used in many aspects against us, both positively and negatively. Music holds the ability to sway our thoughts of a product, cause us to spend more or less time in a place, and can allow us to remember a company quickly because of its mnemonic qualities. Being aware of the ability music holds can allow one to make a more conscious decision about a company, the environment you’re in, and a company’s products. Be conscious of the tempo and sound next time you hear a catchy jingle, listen to a musical commercial, or are in a grocery store or costly restaurant. Understanding how music can alter your impression will allow you to create your own judgments about the product, experience and/or company rather than being persuaded to how the company wants you to feel.



Dingfelder, Sadie. “Music motivates impuls buyers, not thoughtful shoppers.” Monitor on Psychology 36 (2005): 17. web. 10 December 2015.

Hargreaves, David. The Social Psychology of Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Morin, Christophe. “Neuromarketing: The New Science of Consumer Behavior.” Consumer Culture in Global Perspective 48 (2010): 131-135. Web. 8 December 2015.

Morris, Jon. “The Effects of Music on Emotional Response, Brand Attitude, Purchase Intent in an Emotional Advertising Condition.” Association for Consumer Research 25 (1998): 518-526. Web. 9 December 2015.

Perris, Arnold. Music as Propaganda. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1985.

Pradeep, A. The Buying Brain. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2010.

Randall, Annie. Music, Power, and Politics. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Solomon, Robert C. “Emotions and Choice.” The Review of Metaphysics 27 (1973): 20-41. Web. 10 December 2015.

Storr, Anthony. Music and the Mind. New York: The Free Press, 1992.




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