Let’s try an experiment. Pull up your favorite commercial on your phone or computer. When the music starts, turn off the sound.
The commercial doesn’t have the same effect, does it?
If you’re like most people, your emotional connection and engagement with the ad content significantly drops without the music. This shows you how critical music is to audience engagement and ad success.
Music is one of the best ways to capture and retain viewer attention with your marketing videos. When you use music effectively, your audience is more likely to:
Understand your message
Watch your video until the end
Share your video with others
Recall your brand message
Follow your call to action
What do you want your target audience to feel when they watch your video? What do you want them to think? The music you choose helps set the tone of your ad and, as a result, directly impacts how your audience responds--both emotionally and cognitively--to your brand message. 1,2
If your music sets the wrong tone, you risk causing viewers to dislike the video, pay less attention, or even form a negative association with your brand.
Fortunately, we have some tips that will help you choose effective background music that sets the right tone: optimize music-message fit, capture attention and curiosity, and form emotional connections with your audience.
7 Ways to Choose Perfect Background Music For Your Marketing Videos
1. Fit your music with your message
We’ve all seen video advertisements that just feel right. At first glance, we might not even be able to put a finger on why exactly the ads work so well. When we look closer, however, we see that the visuals, the script, and the overall message of the ad work flawlessly with the music. This means the music-message fit is high.
Studies show that viewers typically favor background music with high music-message fit. When the music matches the feel of the brand, the advertisement’s message is supported and enhanced. 3,4 What does this mean to you, the advertiser? It means background music that complements the brand message in tone or lyrics is likely to make a smooth, positive impact.
In 2013 United Airlines created an ad that perfectly demonstrates high music-message fit.
The commercial depicts the Glenn Miller Orchestra seated on the United Airlines flight performing George Gershwin’s relaxing “Rhapsody in Blue.”
The orchestra serves as a metaphor for teamwork, blending airline visuals with distinct music to support the company’s message of a synchronized, united purpose of friendly flying.
To support music-message fit, ask yourself the following questions:
What is the goal of the video?
How do I want my target audience to respond?
What musical genre will best elicit that response?
2. Don't underestimate the power of jingles
Why do jingles get stuck in our heads?
Jingles are short, repetitive, and are designed for memory retention. They don't necessarily have to be great songs - that isn't the point. They just have to be catchy songs.
For example, tell me what happens to your brain when I say, “I want my baby back baby back baby back..." Does the Chili's jingle start playing in your head on repeat?
And what happens if I ask you to tell me about “the best part of waking up?” Do you start singing, "The best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup?"
Jingles work best for products that require consumers to think fast before making a purchase. There is no need for jingles to have a lot of meaning behind them--you just want people to remember the name of your brand when they are quickly choosing from comparable options.
3. Use lyrics that support your brand’s message
Although jingles were enormously popular in past decades, there has been a cultural shift toward using recording artists’ songs in advertising. Songs can be emotionally powerful, and when used strategically they can lead to stronger emotional connections between consumers and your brand.
By selecting a song with lyrics that align with your brand message, you can create a cohesive tone that elicits a strong response from your audience - including as much as a 26% increase in sales. 5, 11
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the United States Postal Service memorably used "Fly Like an Eagle" by the Steve Miller Band in their television commercials. The song lyrics represented the efficiency of packages traveling by air and, at the same time, echoed the USPS eagle logo.
Small organizations can leverage the power of lyrics in ads, too. Below is an ad for a BBQ restaurant in Oklahoma. Why is this ad so great? Check it out for yourself and try to tell me it doesn’t sound like BBQ tastes.
4. But don’t let your lyrics backfire
Even though there are plenty of examples of successful song lyrics in ads, there are plenty of others that miss the mark. How about when the Royal Caribbean used Iggy Pop’s 1977 “Lust for Life,” a lyrical ode to wasting away with liquor and heroin, to advertise their cruises? (Hey, at least the drums are upbeat and catchy.)
Or how about when Best Buy used Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun” to encourage people to buy electronics that they use pretty much entirely indoors?
Our advice is always the same: consider the context of your song choices and make sure you test your videos before you launch them.
Words matter. Whether in a jingle or as song lyrics in your ad’s background track, you can cleverly use a song’s lyrics to extend your brand message.
1) Does the emotion in the singer’s voice align with the emotion of the brand message?
2) Does the meaning of the lyrics align with the emotion of the brand message?
5. Capture attention with unexpected music
One of the most effective ways to capture attention with your marketing videos is to use unexpected music.
Unexpected music is music that an audience would be surprised to hear in a video advertisement for a specific brand or industry. This may seem counterintuitive, but it’s powerful because it captures attention by creating novelty.
The trailer for the video game Gears of War: Ultimate Edition is a great example of unexpected music. The trailer uses a somber and melancholic music track--Gary Jules’ “Mad World”--to reflect the dystopian, apocalyptic setting of the game. This soft and melodic music is not at all what you expect to hear in a video game ad--let alone for a game called Gears of War--and that's exactly why it is so successful at capturing your attention.
Now you might be thinking: “Hey, didn’t you just tell me that music-message fit is critical? And now you’re saying that I should use music that doesn’t fit with an ad? What gives!?”
The answer is simple: when unexpected music is used correctly, it can be powerful and fit amazingly well with an ad. In fact--and this is a key point--unexpected music has to fit even more seamlessly with an ad than regular music does. If it doesn’t, it just flat out won’t work.
Before you set out to surprise your audience with unexpected music, make sure you are strategic about how and when you use unexpected music in your ads. A great way to do this is by testing different kinds of background music tracks to see which ones are more effective with your audience. See Tip #7 for more details on how to test background music.
6. Use music that emotionally connects with your audience
Associating your brand with a well-liked song can turn your target market from lukewarm customers to raving fans.
Think I’m exaggerating?
In 2014, HP saw a 23% increase in sales by using a Meghan Trainor song in a commercial at a time when her popularity was exploding.
This tactic works because the association between your brand and the song/musician becomes a trigger--almost a habit--that evokes positive emotions when consumers think about your brand. 7,8,9 Positive emotions can greatly increase a consumer’s intent to make a purchase.
But you shouldn’t use just any popular song. It’s important to match the music to the preferences of the social groups or subcultures you’re trying to connect with. 10
For example, to target a largely urban audience with an ad, Sprite used songs by Missy Elliot, J. Cole, and Tupac.
On the flip side, Chevy uses country music in their truck commercials to appeal to a largely rural audience.
If you want to get even more scientific about audience targeting--and we highly recommend that you do--use the infographic below to identify the musical genre that most appeals to your target audience.
The downside is that if you aren’t careful, trying too hard to appeal to an audience can backfire if it does not feel genuine.
In 2007, AARP used the Buzzcocks’ “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” as the soundtrack for a new commercial. The ad created some controversy with Buzzcock fans, many of whom were old enough by that time to be AARP members.
AARP didn't realize that Buzzcocks fans would be disappointed that they co-opted a tribute to youthful alienation and disillusionment to make a sunny-side-up advertisement selling the happiness of old age.
As a marketer you should always take into account both the emotional sound of a song and the meaning of the words. You should also make sure you truly understand the broader context of the music. Combine this with the revolutionary power of an AI ad testing platform, and you have a recipe for effective ads that maximize ROI.
When we tested the 2017 Mercedes ad that paid homage to Easy Rider, we found that some aging baby boomers resented their 1960’s counterculture being used to sell luxury cars.
Songs by popular artists can form strong emotional connections between your audience and your brand, especially when you successfully target a subculture, but always be sure you are careful about which songs and artists you use, and take audience feedback into account.
7. Test background music before running a campaign
By testing which types of background music your audience is most receptive to, you’ll be able to run more effective ad campaigns with music that is optimized to drive the responses you want most from viewers.
Dumbstruck is a video testing and analytics platform that uses machine learning technology to determine the emotions viewers experience for every moment of a video. The platform is a powerful ad testing tool that can be used to test and optimize any aspect of a video. For example, we recently conducted a video study examining how voiceover style affects how viewers emotionally respond to automotive commercials. The results showed that voiceover style had a large impact on whether viewers liked or disliked the commercial.
Check out the Automotive Report to see all the details of the video study.
If there’s anything you should take away from this article it’s that music should not be a last minute add-on to your marketing video. Music is a critical component of your ads’ success, and it should be an integral part of the ad creation and development process. Music sets the tone for the entire ad, and is a key factor in capturing viewers’ attention and keeping their interest.
Fit your music with your message
Optimize the fit between the music and the brand image
Use jingles and lyrics to support your brand message
Capture Attention with unexpected music
Use music that emotionally connects with your audience
Use a well-liked song or music artist to gain credibility
Target music to specific groups or subcultures
Test background music before running a campaign
Testing your ads is essential in making sure your audience's’ emotional response is in line with your intentions for the video
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 North, A.C., Hargreaves, D.J., McKenzie, L.C., & Law, R. (2004). The effects of musical and voice ‘fit’ on responses to advertisements. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 34, 1675-1708.
 Alpert, J.I. & Alpert, M.I. (1991). Contributions from a musical perspective on advertising and consumer behavior. Advances in Consumer Research, 18, 232-237.
 Meyer, L.B (1956). Emotions and meaning in music. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press.
 Gorn, G.J. (1982). The effects of music in advertising on choice behavior: a classical conditioning approach. Journal of Marketing, 46, 94-101.
 Kellaris, J.J. & Cox, A.D. (1989). The effects of background music in advertising: A reassessment. Journal of Consumer Research, 16, 113-138.
 Pitt, L.F. & Abratt, R. (1988). Music in advertisements for unmentionable products – a classical conditioning experiment. International Journal of Advertising, 7, 130-7.
 North, A.C. & Hargreaves, D.J. (2007). Lifestyle correlates of musical preference: 1. Relationships, living arrangements, beliefs, and crime. Psychology of Music, 35, 58-87. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2015/i-second-that-emotion-the-emotive-power-of-music-in-advertising.html