Music: A Marketing Tool


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Music has a unique effect on our brain, especially concerning memory. Apple brilliantly capitalizes on all of them in its holiday ad. When it comes to branding there might be no better way than using music to help a Customer remember your brand promise.

Here is the ad, in case you missed it:

Part of the reason these studies showed the link is because music activates many centers across the brain, including the emotional ones. From classical music to the Gershwin tune used in the Apple ad, these areas are active and processing the data. When this occurs, memory is triggered and a perception is formed. In addition, music has the ability to take us back in time to emotions we felt, even to the music of our parents or grandparents as is depicted in the Apple ad.

So Why is Music So Emotionally Charged for Us?

I once read  “Music comes the closest to expressing the inexpressible.” I couldn’t agree more. This is because music has a language of its own.  Malini Mohana, Neuropsychology researcher from the University of Cape Town, South Africa defined it like this:

“Music can be thought of as a type of perceptual illusion, much the same way in which a collage is perceived. The brain imposes structure and order on a sequence of sounds that, in effect, creates an entirely new system of meaning.” (Source:

The language your brain associates with music creates emotions. This language is why you turn up the volume when you hear a song from your youth and sing along joyfully, particularly when you haven’t heard it in a long time. Your brain is producing happy memories that evoke strong emotions. It’s a reason that many people look forward to Holiday music after Thanksgiving (or in some cases just after Halloween!). Mohana explains also that the brain’s emotional, language and memory are all active when listening to music, making it synthesize a memory of your feelings associated with the sounds and rhythm of it.

Several studies have revealed music has a link with our memory. In one study, researchers discovered singing aids in learning a foreign language. Perhaps it is also why those of us around in 1971, (I was 13),  know that Coke would “Like to Teach the World to Sing” is a classic and made everyone sing this song.

Branding with Music Creates a Memory…Just Hope it’s a Good One

Apple and Coke have chosen good songs to create the memory with their Customers. In both cases, the song and the resulting connection is likely to keep positive emotions associated with the brand name. They did a great job.

Using music is not a guarantee of good feelings however. Consider this gem:

Wow. Just wow.

This one is making my brain language laugh in earnest. Laughing is positive, I suppose, but it’s better when it’s “with” not “at.” David’s Pizza has a cheesy ad. Now, you might argue, cheesy isn’t bad when you are selling pizza, but I doubt it would work for a national soda brand or elite tech company.

Why is the Gershwin song great and the David’s pizza song well, …not great? According to Mohana, it’s because the brain structures are wired to anticipate rhythm and melody. Your brain automatically starts to synchronize with the beat and predicts the next one. This happens in the subconscious. Skilled composers are masters at balancing when these expectations are met and when they are not.

Music and branding are a great combination for any organization. Having a great song, jingle, or score makes the ad create positive emotions in the minds of your Customers. It gives your brand promise a foundation built on good memories. From there, you can build the brand to attract them to your business.

Of course, you’d better make sure that the Customer Experience they have when they get there is as advertised. As I have written before, disappointed is never an emotion that leads to a good Customer Experience.

Apple’s new Holiday ad is heartwarming; it’s also genius (punny!). By reaching in and plucking your heartstrings, it embeds its brand right into your subconscious mind.

What song/ad combination do you love? Please share your examples with all of us in the comments below.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


  1. Hello Colin,
    It occurs to me that you get what CX is about. And you capture that beautifully with the following:

    “Apple’s new Holiday ad is heartwarming; it’s also genius (punny!). By reaching in and plucking your heartstrings, it embeds its brand right into your subconscious mind.”

    What is heartwarming? An experience of goodness, of warmness. It is not intellectualising, not cognition. It is affect. Affect of course is that which affect us, moves us, by stirring our deepest emotions.

    What is the subconscious mind? Not mind at all – when mind is what we refer to as thinking: conscious, rational, thinking. If subconscious is not mind then what is it? It is that which lies beyond mind: affect.

    The folks at Apple get this in a profound way. And then build products, marketing, and experiences that pluck the heartstrings and leave us feeling great about ourselves and the world.


  2. Colin…your work always inspires me! This is a thoughtful piece that needs resonating in every organization that cares about customers’ experiences and their perceptions of a product and service being offered. The psychology of the customer experience must be carefully and thoughtfully integrated if it is to make the largest impact on the customer’s memory. We too often miss opportunities to make an experience with a product or service compelling by limiting the number of senses impacted. Or, we include it, but in a haphazard way. For example, phone queues play music no customer would prefer; hotels let the scent of the street permeate their lobby rather than managing what customers smell, retail stores fail to consider the tactile connection with merchandise by limiting customer’s access before purchase, and signage too often focuses on the message forgetting the aesthetics of the sign. To your point, memory-evoking sensory stimulation, especially music, can make a major difference in the marketing of products and services as well as the experiences that surround them. Thank you, Colin, for starting this conversation.

  3. I read somewhere that a poem is the result when emotions find thoughts and the thoughts find the words. I think the visceral connection we have with music can be explained similarly. On a separate, but related note (pun intended), nothing propels me out of a retail store faster than shrieky, pop music, played throughout every department. This seems to be a fact lost on store managers, who, in their own profit-driven way, probably think it creates such a nice ambiance. And these are some large retailers – Whole Foods, Harris Teeter, Giant Food. Have they studied the connection between music and customer experience? Occasionally, I’ll ask cashiers how they put up with it, and they often reply, “well, I just tune it out.” When thinking about your article, this seems odd: a potentially great asset, disregarded, and cast aside like a disposable paper cup.

  4. As a dedicated baritone uke player, this absolutely resonates with me. Some of the more memorable ones are The Limeliters for Coca-Cola ( and Leon Redbone for Chevrolet ( and Budweiser (

    The most recent ‘songvertisement’ which made an impression on me (and, per YouTube, around 15 million other people) was one for T-Mobile, shot at Heathrow Airport a few years ago (

  5. I’d add, by the way, that smart b2c product and service marketers have, historically, used music and catchy jingles to differentiate themselves and help create a positive, memorable image. Barry Manilow, before becoming famous as a songwriter and entertainer, also developed jingles for such companies as Dr. Pepper, State Farm Insurance, McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pepsi, and Band Aid:

  6. Colin, very thoughtful article. Here’s a story about mixing the best of music and creating an engaging customer experience.
    When Songza launched their online music streaming service, generating in-depth insights regarding consumer’s preferences and expectations for a competitively differentiating music experience was essential. Without those insights they could not compete against the established and well-funded market leaders.
    To learn these consumer preferences, Songza conducted extensive VoC research.
    They discovered that customers were looking for something much simpler than what was being offered by competitors. They found other music services too hard: the enormous selection they offered was lost on them, because they didn’t have the time, knowledge, or inclination to navigate the sites. (Full disclosure: Songza’s CEO, Elias Roman, is my son. The company has since been acquired by Google.)
    This discovery directly contradicted an assumption that other music services were based on: customers want infinite choice. VoC insights led the Songza team to create a new user experience. They launched “Music Concierge” with the single goal of exponentially improving the customer experience. Concierge provides situationally-appropriate playlists, pre-filtered based on the time of day, day of the week, user device, and observed preferences. Songza tripled retention and engagement by trusting, and acting on, customer expectations.

  7. True, for all of the above. I agree with Chip about the need for companies to pay attention to potential turnoffs, in addition to leveraging the positives.

    For example, when an airline lost my luggage, I ended up calling them about 7 times before everything was resolved (luggage was never located, they issued me a check in lieu of my things, some of which did have strong sentimental value, as well as some irreplaceable customer market research interview notes, which was the purpose of my trip), and every single time I called I was on-hold listening to the same jingle that they use in their ads . . . it’s been the same theme song for several decades now.

    Suffice it to say that whenever I deal with that airline today, even in their opening security video, I hear the same music and feel the same emotions I felt when I learned I’d never see my things again.

    I like hearing that companies are immersing employees in customer scenarios for empathy-building. There’s nothing like being on-hold with jarring fuzzy wait-time music at a time when you’re frustrated to begin with, especially when you’re on-hold for 45-75 minutes, with the same music replayed umpteen times, and no way to mute it or soften it for fear of missing the agent. Quite an experience I’d like to never have again, and wouldn’t wish on a worst enemy. Like most things in life, there’s 2 sides to a coin, and mis-use can be as damaging, or more, than the upside.

    Thanks for bringing more awareness to this topic, Colin.


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