It's beginning to sound a lot like the holidays . . .

I was at Lowe’s with my son (who is 6) and we stopped to look at the holiday displays.  They had trees, lights, ornaments, yard displays and more – pretty much everything you would need to decorate a town for the holidays.  We checked out a few of the displays and, since I am a push-over when it comes to my son, we got some shiny ornaments for the house.  Anyway, as we’re shopping in a different part of the store, he starts singing a holiday song (incorrectly).  I gave him the right words and asked him where he learned the song.  He said it playing in the holiday aisle.

I wasn’t shocked that music was playing at the display – I was shocked that I hadn’t even heard it.  Hard-of-hearing jokes aside, we wandered back that way, and sure enough, holiday music was playing in that section.  It was subtle and very clear – not coming over the in-store system, which was playing different music (that I did hear).  I tracked down a small display with directional speakers and a digital media player.  Very nicely hidden / directed / developed.

That got me wondering if my son had been influenced in his purchase decision – or had I been influenced by the music – or is anyone influenced at all?

A little bit of research later, here’s what I discovered:  not only does music increase sales, but specific music can increase sales of specific items.  In a 1997 study, psychologist Adrian North and colleagues played stereotypically French and German music on alternate days in front of a display of French and German wines (Nature, vol 390, p 132).  French music led to French wines outselling German ones, whereas German music had the opposite effect.  Yet a questionnaire suggested customers were unaware that the music had an effect on their product choices.

I think people in the industry are pretty familiar with the concept that music has an impact on consumer behavior.  What I didn’t realize is that the type of music could have such a dramatic impact on product choice.  We’ve designed displays that feature music – but our music selection was based on mood (soothing, exciting, etc.), but I don’t think I’ve ever considered associating the type of music with the type of product.

I suppose that part of it is because a specific POP display is usually promoting a specific type of product.  In the research conducted by North and colleagues, they adjusted the music between two distinct types of wine (French and German).  We usually develop displays to promote only one product (French wine only, for example).  So it wouldn’t be unusual for us to play music appropriate to the display.  If we were designing a display to promote all available wines, then this research has made me think about how we would have to adjust the music.

I did a little more research and found that behavioral scientists think that music creates a mental association with a product, although exactly why (from a neural perspective) remains a mystery.

So we don’t have all the answers (yet), but we know cause and effect.  I think that, like so many cause and effect situations, that finding the right mix / type of music will be a product of trial and error – and sometimes that’s the best way to build a display.

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