The Power of Everyday Sounds

Discussion
Mar 10, 2010
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

According to consultant and neurology expert
Martin Lindstrom, 83 percent of all advertising principally engages only
one sense: sight. Hearing, the author of the best seller, Buyology, argues,
can be equally as powerful, though advertisers rarely capitalize on it.

Writing in Fast Company, Mr. Lindstrom
notes that when the sound was removed from slot machines in Las Vegas,
revenue fell by 24 percent. Experiments in restaurants show that when slow
music plays – effectively slowing the rhythm of a heartbeat – people eat
slower and they eat more.

On the advertising side, brands have used
jingles and background music in commercials, and music soundtracks are
tailored to many stores. But Mr. Lindstrom says brands in general
are not capitalizing on consumers’ deep connections with everyday sounds.

Using the latest neuroscience-based research
methods, Buyology Inc. and Elias Arts, a sound identity company, measured
the galvanic, pupil, and brainwave responses of 50 volunteers to sounds.
They found a steak sizzling, a baby laughing, a hum of a vibrating cell
phone, and the sound of an ATM machine dispensing cash among the sounds
that most resonate strongly with consumers. (Among branded sounds, Intel,
MTV, McDonald’s and Home Depot displayed the strongest reactions)

Mr. Lindstrom said these sounds already carry
meaning to the consumer, triggering instant emotions such as hunger or
thirst or joy immediately after being heard.

On the one hand, Mr. Lindstrom admits to Time magazine
to being puzzled by TV ads that give viewers close-ups of shots of meat
on a grill accompanied by generic jangly guitar music rather than the powerful
connection shown to the sound of sizzling meat. But he also sees an opportunity
for retailers.

The Time article noted that the
0101 department store in Japan, for example, features a series of soundscapes
incorporating sound effects such as children at play, birdsongs and lapping
water in the sportswear, fragrance and formal-wear sections. Mr. Lindstrom
is working with some European supermarkets on a similar strategy. For instance,
the sound of percolating coffee or fizzling soda might be heard in the beverage
department or a baby cooing might accompany the baby-food aisle.

"As marketers become more aware of the power
of sound, it will be used to increase brand recognition in increasingly
sophisticated ways," wrote Mr. Lindstrom in Fast Company. "It’s
just a matter of time before our brains hear sizzling steaks, newly lit
cigarettes and sparkling sodas, and immediately register them as Outback,
Marlboro and Dr. Pepper."

Discussion Questions:
How would you rate the opportunities as well as the limitations in
using everyday sounds as a marketing tool? Can retailers capitalize on the
consumer’s connection to such sounds in their retail environments?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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15 Comments on "The Power of Everyday Sounds"


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Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
11 years 1 month ago

Even as a marketer, I feel a little queasy when I read articles like this. While some might get excited at a new method for getting customers to spend more money, I see it as a cheap copout to doing things that genuinely improve the shopping experience such as great service, selection and store layout.

Sure, this can be combined with all that stuff, but I believe that for many retailers, playing a soundtrack of a sizzling steak would be way easier and cheaper than revamping their customer service program.

Paul R. Schottmiller
Guest
Paul R. Schottmiller
11 years 1 month ago

While I think the conclusions around the impact of sound are right on, the use of this in the shopping experience continues to be a struggle. Specifically as it relates to the store, the ability to deliver sound only to a particular physical area area, thus reducing the “noise” carryover element is a capability that is not new. This is commonly referred to as “Sound Showers” (check our TED.com for a demo of the technology). I am aware of a couple of leading retailers that have tested it, but not aware of anyone that has found the right ROI formula yet.

I am not sure customers want more of their senses involved, to the extent that they have a say. I’ll be interested to see what other panelists are seeing on this front in the Retail space.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
11 years 1 month ago

Ruth’s Chris steakhouse used this approach in the mid 1970s–their TV commercials emphasized the sound of their steaks sizzling at high temperature–as that was more or less their signature. They used to run videos (and may still) at New Orleans Saints’ games on the big screen in the Super Dome, showing a steak sizzling and playing the sound very loud. At the time, it seemed kind of obnoxious but I sure ate there numerous times and the chain has grown rapidly over the years.

Liz Crawford
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

It’s true that sound effects are not often used in advertising and retail environments, while sound itself (and music in particular) is.

However, I think that before we rush out and redesign soundscapes in stores and revamp TV ads, some testing is in order. Does the sound of the steak sizzling actually drive sales more than the guitar, in a particular retailer for example? Only by daypart? Or among a certain group of shoppers? These kind of answers are discoverable by brand, retailer and shopper segment. It is an open challenge to the industry to study the matter further.

Roger Saunders
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

Martin Lindstrom raises an issue that retailers and creative folks at agencies can put to use. Consider the holistic impressions on the senses that are hitting the consumer in the store and via the messaging within advertising.

In our teaching/learning in the U.S., some 65% of it comes from visual, 28% from auditorial, and 7% from tactile/olfactory impact. One sense often triggers another (the mouth waters over a great visual or auditory message at the store or via an advertisement, a song brings a smile to our face and triggers a mental visualization of message, etc.)

Creatives and retailers can build that stronger bond with consumers by taking the common sense approach of keeping Lindtrom’s hypothesis in mind.

James Tenser
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

This reminds me of a phenomenon I’ve been noticing in TV commercials lately. It seems some advertisers embed the barely-audible sound of a phone ringer in the background of the sound track. I believe this is a not-so-subtle way to induce viewers to focus their attention. Do you notice this too? Or maybe I just suffer from intermittent ad-onset tinnitus?

But seriously folks…The effectiveness of using certain trigger sounds in ads or in retail selling spaces is testable. We shouldn’t be speculating about whether they work; we should be running matched panel in-market studies. One hypothetical finding: Some sounds do arrest our attention (good) but also annoy us deeply (bad).

Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

Proving once again that anybody can get anything published. Of course sound can be important (raise your hand if you’ve never been in a grocery store where you hear mooing in dairy). I’m waiting for him to tell us about smell, because retailers never thought about that either (except for bakery and fresh food and deli and seafood…).

Robert Heiblim
Guest
Robert Heiblim
11 years 1 month ago

Having worked directly in the field we can easily attest to the power of sound. However, marketers need to be sensitive to its power as not all agree on volume or content when it comes to sound. As well, it can be challenging to deliver consistently. So the answer is, it depends.

Retail environments can certainly create mood and activity through sound, but care is needed to ensure it is not consumers leaving the store. Avoiding conflicting sounds is key as things like beat frequencies will surely make consumers uncomfortable.

As other posters have noted, this is one of the tools. We have heard this on radio as well to emphasize product differentiation and we have seen other senses such as touch used in packaging and product. All of the senses are paths to the consumer mind and should be explored.

Tom McGoldrick
Guest
Tom McGoldrick
11 years 1 month ago

I am not surprised that sound especially in an experimental setting would have a great impact. However, sound more so than visual stimuli can easily be overdone. This seems like a tool that can be effective but only in limited amounts.

Also sound is more difficult to isolate than visual design. I can design an attractive end cap that captures shopper attention without overwhelming the store more easily than I can imagine adding the sound of meat sizzling without it spilling over into other areas of the store. For example, a vegan buying vegetables probably does not want to hear meat sizzling. They can avert their eyes from the meat display but not their ears from the sound of sizzling.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
11 years 1 month ago
Lindstrom is blowing smoke. Advertisers capitalize on hearing all the time. Five dollar, five dollar foot long. Stuck in our heads while being slightly disturbing. Have it your way, have it your way. The Microsoft login sound. The doink-doink from “Law And Order.” And much, much more. (For the more senior audience, how about the theme music from “Have Gun, Will Travel?”) When I wrote the California Raisins campaign, I depended on “Heard It Through The Grapevine.” Popular music is used for advertising all the time and qualifies as “everyday sounds.” By the way, the microwave “I’m done” signal should also be included in the list of compelling sounds. And the whistling of a teapot. And a door slamming. And a garage door opening. And the beep-beep-beep from service trucks backing up. And lawnmowers. And Harley-Davidson’s “potato-potato-potato.” The list is lengthy. Moving on, do you like hearing siren sounds or car honks from your car radio? Does it scare the heck out of you? Adrenalin rush? You know it’s true. How about hearing a telephone… Read more »
Mark Johnson
Guest
Mark Johnson
11 years 1 month ago

Too many sounds, too many different tastes, too much choice. Paradox of choice.

I would LOVE it if Kroger would play a little country when I am shopping.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

Lest we never forget; everything communicates.

Kai Clarke
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

Mr Lindstrom, especially in his observations, is unfortunately off track. Advertisers have been using sounds to appeal to their target markets for over 100 years. Television, the largest advertising revenue source, uses extensive sounds as part of its appeal. The sound of frying eggs or the pfishhhh, as a bottle of beer is uncorked, have long sold products. For many, these are just as important as the pictures they describe or share. Turn off the sound to any commercial and see how poor it becomes without the sound, Mr. Lindstrom! Add to this the advertising appeal of radio, and more recently the Internet, and we have a majority of products that derive their revenues from sound in one way or another. Welcome to the 21st century, Mr. Lindstrom.

Phil Rubin
Guest
11 years 1 month ago

Growing up in New Orleans, Al’s Ruth Chris Steakhouse example is one of the first thoughts I had while reading this.

In other words, using sound is not a new concept. Of course it’s an integral part of advertising and has been since the beginning of radio (ironic, right?). Beyond advertising, sound has been integrated into customer experiences for years though like many elements of marketing, it was just as often art as science.

So just like the rest of marketing there is an opportunity to add more science to the integration of sound so that there are data-driven choices to make. One day, advertising will actually be measured by its ability to lift sales, too!

Julie Krieg
Guest
Julie Krieg
10 years 7 months ago

This article speaks to the belief that emotions play a powerful role in the buying process. One of the most common and widely-used categorizations of the various types of learning styles is Fleming’s VARK model. Fleming asserts that people prefer to learn in one of four ways. There are visual learners, auditory learners, reading/writing-preference learners, and kinesthetic or tactile learners. Businesses looking to increase both their customer base and client retention benefit significantly by reaching out to their prospects and current clients with Point-Of-Entry Marketing that targets all five senses and creates an experience in which each type of learner feels comfortable. Those positive experiences create loyal customers who return time and again.

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