By: Dr. David Bridwell, People Scientist and Jake McKenzie, Chief Executive Officer

We often talk about how people rarely pay full attention to advertisements and that they often forget the advertisements that they do see. For example in the book How Brands Grow, Byron Sharp points out that only 16% of ads are remembered and correctly attributed. Yet at the same time, there are certain instances where people seem to have a remarkable memory for ads that they haven’t seen for decades. What could account for this discrepancy? 

A big factor is the use of music in advertising. If you think back, the ads that you remember from decades ago likely feature elements that are very simple and easy to process. Music is often one of the key elements that makes these ads so engaging, whether it’s the background music generating increased engagement with the advertisement or a jingle that you’ve heard over and over and over and over again. 

The role of music in advertising is often overlooked. For example, researchers showed that only 29 out of 48,000 articles in the Warc database discussed music in detail. Meanwhile, Peter Field and Sarah Carter used data from the IPA databank to show that ads that prominently feature music show between a 20 to 30 percent increase in effectiveness. It’s effective, but it’s often overlooked.

Why is music so effective? One reason has to do with how easy it is to process. Music can engage and make an impact on the brain even when people are performing other tasks, and people are often performing other tasks when they see ads (whether it’s an actual task, or just another distracting thought). Music is processed through a more robust processing system which requires much less effort, and it impacts more brain areas than other forms of engagement. As a result, people are happy to engage with the musical content of advertisements without recognizing that it’s an ad that they should ignore. 

In order to really appreciate the robust way that the brain processes and holds onto music, we can take a look at the fascinating connection between music and patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In many cases, these patients are unable to speak or remember information, but music can help these patients bypass their traditional brain processes by engaging with more robust areas that can not only help bring back old memories, but can also  bring back old movements. Oliver Sacks is noted for doing research about the powerful impact that music has on the brain, and you can check out the documentary Alive Inside to see some really compelling examples. 

When marketers understand the full complexity of consumer attention and perception, it becomes easier to see how certain things like music become overlooked. These psychological insights can help you make great advertisements that connect with your audiences. Feel free to give us a call at 833-578-1314 or email us at to discuss how we can help with your marketing challenges. In addition, sign up for our newsletter to stay in touch with the latest insights in marketing psychology.

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