Have you ever had a song, even one you don’t like, get stuck in your head?
Join the club.
Like it or not, neurologists recognize that music accesses very different pathways in the mind, ones that for better or worse, create a deep “groove” in our consciousness. How else to explain our inability to retrieve a phone number that we haven’t accessed in years, yet we can recall perfectly the lyrics to “Yesterday” from 1964? Maddening, but true.
Scientists say that this is because the music/brain connection taps multiple emotions such as the exact time you first heard Paul McCartney sing the ballad on the Ed Sullivan show, where you were when you heard it, how it made you feel, what you were eating at the time and even that special someone you shared the moment with. The marketing and advertising world knows the power of music all too well. Take the folks at Muzak, for instance. Founded in 1938, Muzak came up with the idea of adding music to restaurants to improve the ambiance and, in their words, “stimulate the appetite”. By the 1950s and 60s Muzak was everywhere, holding us hostage in the elevator with the Montavani Orchestra’s lame instrumental versions of Yesterday and (I’m not making this up) tunes from U2, Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails. But in the last ten years Muzak and companies like it have grown up and are now creating “full sensory experiences” using music, fragrances, lighting and visuals. Today, even Muzak isn’t Muzak anymore. It’s been rebranded as Mood, part of parent company Mood Media.
Whether we realize it or not, many of our most memorable evenings at restaurants, retail shops and even sports events are due in part to the work of companies like Muzak. Scary, huh? “Music is one of those great mediums that can really control emotion and we can use that emotion to get our customers excited” explains Coldstone Creamery marketing exec Jana Fendly. The trendiest restaurants in New York and LA pump in music along with the perfect fragrance. One uber-hip night spot known for its all natural, organic cuisine has custom new age music playing through mini speakers placed under each patron’s table while a fragrance blend of lemon verbena and green tea is pumped through the ventilation system.
So is this Big Brother as Big Retailer? Possibly, but it is a technique that any of us can use and with less nefarious intent than enticing people to eat more, drink more and shop more. Research has shown that the brain responds to stimuli that activates multiple senses, imprinting the memory of a “good time with friends” or a “relaxing evening with a loved one” more deeply than dinner at, say, a noisy, overcrowded bar with blaring music and 27 TV screens showing sports highlights. So the next time you’re out shopping or enjoying a meal, take in the surroundings and think about what impressions you’re responding to.
Ask yourself: Can I use music, a spritz of scented air freshener and a few select snacks to improve the environment at my next board meeting? How about a special evening at home or a celebration at a restaurant with friends? If you’re a speaker or performer, think about what sounds (music, sound effects, etc.) lighting, fragrances, textures, or food you can incorporate into a presentation to make your points even more memorable. Used subtly and with intention, your efforts to engage the brain may well be as irresistible as that tune you can’t seem to get out of your head. Use your new found power wisely!