There are no ifs or buts about it. Using music in advertising of any kind can be crucial for their success. It makes no difference whether it is commercial, political or any other kind of an ad, you need music to be in it.

Of course, it can not be just any haphazard tune, or something the producer or director likes. It has to be the music specifically you chose for an audience you want to target. The number of researches done on the subject is abundant, and they all confirm this conclusion.

According to Harvard Business Review, the cost of advertising was the one that rose most dramatically for U.S. businesses in the last 25 years. According to the author, most of these ads were in the video form, and practically all of those include music.

At the same time, the research produced by the digital marketing agency Mainstreethost shows that 86% of commercials used music to some degree. Of those, 11.6% used music to some degree and 62.8% used instrumental music.

Specialist pharmaceutical research organization FiercePharma, for example, has found that “for pharma companies, the familiar, upbeat and bouncy ‘70s tunes quickly grab attention with the audience they’re likely intended for.” But commercial ads are not the only ones that include music. OUPblog gives concise details of how music is used in political ads.

So, what is this element that makes music such a driving force for ads? As research shows, in order to process music, studies show that we use the same parts of the brain that are also responsible for emotion and memory. Music elicits an emotional response so the associated memory also tends to be strong. That is the reason music can be the driving force in ads.

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This post has been updated in August 2021. 

Why is music advertising so effective?

Nielsen, one of the key media research companies in one of its studies on the emotive power of music in advertising found that “commercials with some form of music performed better across four key metrics—creativity, empathy, emotive power, and information power—than those that didn’t.”

Other experts agree. David Huronthinks that “music can serve the overall promotional goals in one or more of several capacities.” Huron came up with six primary categories:

  • entertainment;
  • structure and continuity;
  • memorability;
  • lyrical language;
  • targeting;
  • authority establishment.


The entertainment aspect always helps any ad to be more appealing since it adds aesthetic value to it. In this manner, music forms a bridge between the viewer and the ad.

According to some experts, “music has the ability to emphasize dramatic moments within the advertisement, and therefore creates both structure and continuity.”1

As far as memorability is concerned, Huron points out that “the most common musical technique for aiding memorability and hence product recall”. Under lyrical language, he has in mind that “mixtures of speech and song provide advertisers with opportunities for both logical, factual appeals through spoken and written language and emotive, poetic appeals through music.”

When targeting is in question, when advertisers use different kinds of musical genres, it helps them “draw from the kind of audience they think will be interested in their products.”

When talking about authority establishment, Huron and Timothy Taylor have in mind that when the advertiser is “using a specific song that holds weight in the target audience” he is “trying to reach can strengthen the bond between the product and the consumer.”

How does the theory of musical advertising translate into practice?

But how do these theoretical elements of musical ads translate into practice? What music ads really work and which ones don’t?

To look into the matter, Quality Logo did research on what kind of music in TV advertising was effective, and which was not.

Its list of the ten most effective TV music ads (end of August 2019) was as follows:

  1. Jet & Apple
  2. Sarah McLachlan & ASPCA
  3. Haley Rainhart & Extra Gum
  4. Bob Seger & Chevrolet
  5. Snoop Dogg & Sun Drop
  6. Jack Wood & Bacardi
  7. Europe & Geico
  8. Phil Collins & Cadbury
  9. Michael Andrews, Gary Jules, & Gears of War
  10. Little & Ashley & Amazon Ki

Commenting on its top of the list ad, they said: “The song was upbeat enough to make you feel like dancing… and run out to buy your own iPod.”

But, according to them, not all music/ad pairing work. Their same timeline list was as follows:

  1. The Rolling Stones & Pepsi
  2. Johnny Cash & Preparation H
  3. Jane’s Addiction & Jack Daniels
  4. The Zoombies & Tampax
  5. Bill Withers & Pringles
  6. Frank Sinatra & Gatorade
  7. Nine Inch Nails & Levi’s Jeans
  8. Iggy Pop & Royal Caribbean
  9. The Allman Brothers & Geico
  10. Lou Bega & New York Life Insurance

Commenting on the worst list topper, they said: “Everything about this commercial is extremely annoying, most notably, the buzzing bug with the creepy Mick Jagger mouth. When it sings The Rolling Stone’s “Brown Sugar,” you immediately want to turn the volume way down.”


What is the right music for advertising?

Of course, any specific client or customer can make their own best and worst lists. Where any particular pairing of ads and music will end up on any given list depends on the product (or idea) that is the subject matter and the audiences it is desired to reach.

An Australian study actually found that often music is more memorable than visuals in marketing. The same study measured the reactions of 1,000 Australian consumers to a series of audio clips. It found that different types of music can produce strong but very different emotional reactions.

“For example, strings playing short and sharp notes in a major key were found to elicit feelings of happiness and excitement in 87% of respondents. Meanwhile, a shift from major to minor keys provoked a sense of sadness or melancholy in 83%, and 90% found acoustic guitar sounds to be caring, calm and sophisticated.”Econsultancy

According to Julanne Schiffer of Nielsen Entertainment, “It depends on the message you want to get across. Popular songs, for example, are the most effective at invoking some kind of emotional response. But, while pop songs deliver emotive power, other genres are better suited for price and promotional-based ads that are trying to get information across to audiences. In fact, the study found that generic background music helps improve information power. Advertiser jingles help make the brand seem in touch, but they don’t generate as much empathy as other forms of music.”

As Nielsen suggests, “in advertising, memorability matters, but effective ads do more than just create memories. While it’s important for consumers to remember the message in your ad, connecting on an emotional level can directly lead to a purchase. So the best ads are the ones that have both information and emotive power.”

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Making choices for music advertising – not an easy task

When you consider all the facts and research data, it becomes obvious that making the right choice of music for any type of ad is not an easy task. Of course, consulting experts is probably essential. Still, knowing what the targeted audience of a specific ad is always the starting point.

Melody Loops(ML) gives some interesting suggestions when it comes to choosing music for ads. The potential client should always take into account the added value any given music gives to their ad project.

“Do you want the background music to support the message you are conveying? Do you simply want it for dramatic effect? Or maybe you just want music for radio ads and are searching for an attention-grabbing beat.”

It is the target audience that determines the type of music that a potential advertiser should focus on. It can all depend on the taste of a certain age group or certain groups of music fans. As ML, points out, “if you cannot pinpoint one particular genre, then the best way is to go with a background tune that caters to a broad audience.”

Using popular songs is a good option. As Nielsen (above), notes, “advertisers can also use the familiarity of a popular song to incite a specific reaction in viewers that aligns with the objective of their ad.”

On the other hand, using one of the available online sources for sample beats, and pre-recorded music can become a good option.

While it is not an ad, the success of Lil’ Was X and his Old Town Road hit are a good example. He picked up the original sample of a Nine Inch Nails track that he used on a site that serves as a Creative Commons license exchange. It really did its purpose. The same concept can turn out to be successful in an ad/music pairing.

  1. Torras I. Segura, Daniel (November 2013). “Musical Commercials. DIfferences with Musical Cinematographic Genre”.