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Image by Daniel Schludi

How brands can use music in adverts to make people feel good and sell too

For our second post of 2023, we caught up with Seb Silas who is developing a computational system to learn how to play melodies by ear at Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media. It explores how brands can put the subconscious power of music to work for the brand and in adverts.

What made you get into music?

“I’m a saxophonist and at school I became interested in improvisation and composition. I enjoyed performing a lot and making up music spontaneously. I studied for a jazz performance degree and played in various jazz bands. Now I play in a brass band called Don’t Problem where we write all our own music together. After completing my degree, I became interested in how people learn and remember music and studied for a degree in Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience at Goldsmiths University. I was excited by the thought of working with Dr. Daniel Müllensiefen and driven by the idea that we could build tools to help people learn music in a more efficient way.

“I then did a Masters, also at Goldsmiths, in Cognitive Computational Neuroscience. This got me interested in statistics and programming, bringing together the three areas of music, cognitive neuroscience and computational statistics. The third data-driven area is important to give the precision we need to predict how well someone is learning rather than relying on a purely subjective approach. And now I am about to complete a PhD around developing a computational system to help people learn how to play melodies by ear on their instrument.

What excites you about the Goldsmiths and SoundOut implicit research project?

“I joined towards the end of the project to carry out the data analysis and write up the papers that explained the results. It was a very exciting project because SoundOut and Goldsmiths have lifted the lid on the previously unexplored area of implicit testing. I believe what they have proven so far is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of where implicit testing can go. It’s exciting to think about where SoundOut could take this research. For example, we could expand the range of videos and images we use to see how music affects further content domains. We could add music that is more closely associated with brands and also explore the impact on various demographics to make the models even more comprehensive.

How do you think brands can use the subconscious power of music to their advantage?

“Daniel Müllensiefen often refers to a quote attributed to David Ogilvy, ’People don't think how they feel, they don't say what they think, and they don't do what they say.’ Implicit testing helps to solve that conundrum by enabling you to infer what a consumer preference is without asking a direct question. This is a powerful concept for brands to understand how to unlock unconscious responses through music.

What are your thoughts on the beneficial impact of music on people’s lives?

“In a way it’s hard to think where music couldn’t have a beneficial impact. Music is a fundamentally human activity. It brings people together and yet can also be enjoyed alone. Music has an immense healing potential. It can keep people alert and it can enable people to alter their mood.

What role can brands play in helping people to stay positive in today’s challenging economy by using music constructively?

“I think it’s very important for brands to be aware of the current context and to recognise that they can do more with music than just communicate brand personality. An advert with the right music can make people feel happier and more positive. It can trigger a change in mood. The implicit testing points towards this mood benefit. Put simply, I think adverts can make people feel good and not just be about the sell. I still laugh at the CompareTheMeerkat adverts, for example. I think brands should harness this extramusical, beyond brand approach, to its full potential – especially now.

What do you like about collaborating with SoundOut?

SoundOut is a great company to collaborate with for the following reasons:

  • They have a real appetite to learn new things

  • They are open to ideas and never shut down an idea but add to it. That’s why they have achieved such amazing breakthroughs in the field of music testing

  • The have a thirst for knowledge that drives a desire to experiment, the basic premises to do good science. This is backed up by a can-do and will do attitude. This is why they are such an innovative company who are achieving things that haven’t been done before.

What do you think are the main takeaways for brands from the implicit testing research?

I think there are three important takeaways

  • Implicit testing often tells you something quite different to explicit testing. It shines a light on the new area of the subconscious and provides brands information that they otherwise won’t see and use to their advantage

  • This new information is really important because it can predict how people will react to the brand or an ad campaign.

  • Explicit testing provides useful insights into the rational response to music or music in an advert. But music doesn’t have its strongest effects on rational channels in the brain. Music can give you goosebumps. You don’t generally get goosebumps as a result of a rational thought process. It’s an automatic subconscious reaction. Implicit testing gets at the emotional parts of the brain that music acts on and is therefore, arguably, more important and valuable to brands than explicit testing. But of course, both can be utilised, to complete picture of consumer reactions.

Which is your favourite music track and why?

"It would have to be Smilin’ through by the Wayne Shorter Quartet. It’s a wonderful fusion of composition and improvisation that somehow manages to sound free and spontaneous. It also features a saxophone!


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