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Sonic Branding Agency Unmute

The Idea of Musical Fit

Updated: May 4, 2023

It is quite hard to imagine an audio-visual commercial in contemporary society without some kind of music. Today music is almost an ubiquitous element of advertising, but the mere presence does not automatically enhance the effects of advertising.

The Idea of Musical Fit with sonic branding

The power of music

More than 25 years ago the concept of musical fit was developed to understand how music can be used effectively in advertising. Studies have shown that music combined with images and speech can influence several cognitive and affective processes, more concretely this is evident in further studies demonstrating that musical fit can influence aspects like product choice, consumer memory and salience.

This is even without mentioning the professionalism native to the congruence a good musical fit provides—and unprofessionalism in case of the opposite.

An old, but rather funny example of a bad fit, is the Microsoft commercial from the 90’s using the beginning part of a Mozart Requiem probably trying to give the brand a posh feel.

Not only does the Mozart work sound more like a montage from a war film, the Microsoft slogan “Where do you want to go today” was accompanied by the chorus singing what would translate to: ''The damned and accursed are convicted to the flames of hell.''

Unfortunately it hasn’t been possible to track down the original footage.

A more critical and recent example is the case of the BMW sound logo which disappeared after 2019 and as of 2021 BMW’s logo is still accompanied by silence. A study found that the appeal of the brand scored great when audio or visuals were presented on their own, but the score was halved when the audio and visuals were combined.

Total recall

So how do we obtain this delicious congruent musical fit with all its benefits? On the face of it, being aware of the risk and rewards of the concept will help a lot in making a considered decision when choosing music for your advertisement, but it can actually get a lot more strategic:

Knowing and utilizing how for example music and cultural incongruity enhances recall, but decreases positive evaluation of the ad; or how dividing analysis into spot narration, product and target group can be a useful tool to measure the degree of musical fit on a 5-level scale, but this probably where it makes more sense to ask the professionals for help and it is also here the idea of musical fit can make a difference in advertising—a difference between straight auditory stimulation and actual meaningful music.


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