If you’re like most people in the US, you’ve no doubt been aurally assaulted by holiday music already. As retailers push for an extended holiday season, and the corresponding increase in revenues, Christmas seems to come earlier and earlier every year. In most major cities, some radio stations start their “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Winter Wonderland” cycles as early as November 1. Enter any retail store after Thanksgiving, and you’re sure to hear those familiar saccharine tunes over the PA. Of course, this begs the question, does this music entice shoppers to open their wallets, or is it merely for ambiance?
Several studies in the past have shown the relationship between shoppers and music (link). Findings of these studies have found that volume, tempo and even playlist can all affect shoppers’ behaviors. A common finding is that fast tempo music at high volumes encourages people to spend less time in a store (the opposite also being true), stores that play age-specific music identifiable to their target demographic tend to have greater appeal to said demographic. And not surprisingly, people are more inclined to purchase product that they associate with music they enjoy, thus the use of classic rock in truck ads, hip hop in youth ads, etc.
But what about holiday music? Not particularly age, gender or race-specific, they seem to appeal across the board to consumers, provided they are Christians (or at least celebrate Christmas). But is playing seasonal music an effective marketing tool?
It seems that it is. Many music psychologists have pointed that the link between seasonal music and gift-purchasing is a strong one, even if the it’s only September. Adrian North, a music psychologist in the UK points to the general appeal of music to shoppers in general in an article from the Living Scotsman.
“Music usually fits the product so people can remember it and will come back. If the shops plays classical, opera or New Age-style music, often the shoppers seems to be prepared to spend more money, they regard the product as more upmarket and exclusive.”
Evidence seems to show that while the music may be jarring to some (especially the staff), holiday tunes have a beneficial effect on overall sales. And it need not be a familiar song to reap the benefits of the season. In particular, Budweiser has been running Christmas ads for years featuring a distinctly holiday-feeling song that is merely an interpretation of their traditional jingle.
It appears that that sales benefit simply by association with the holidays. And the best way to create this association? Why music, of course.
This theory is suppported in an article by Daniel J. Levitin in the Wall Street Journal:
“Holiday tunes are supposed to get us feeling at least a bit religious or spiritual, aren’t they? Historically they have worked well in this way. Music’s role in religious and spiritual ceremonies may be as old as religion itself. Although human religions differ markedly from one another, all religious rituals are characterized by a demarcation of time and place — on this day we stand here in this special spot, or interact with sacred objects that we don’t normally interact with — and by the reciting of music or text that is designed to take us out of ourselves, out of routine, and uplift us with higher thoughts. Ritual and religious music helps to differentiate this day or activity from the rest of our secular activities. Because we tend to hear these songs only during this season, they serve as a unique memory cue, unlocking a neural flood of memories related to the holidays.”
This theory indicates that on a sub-conscious level we associate Christmas with gift giving and receiving. Thus, when we hear Christmas music, it subliminally encourages shopping.
So keep this in mind the next time you’re at the mall, and feel like jumping from the escalator after hearing “White Christmas” for the eleventh time. It’s just another marketing tactic, and one that has proven to be very effective.