Examining the Relationship Between Background Musical Tempo and Perceived Duration Using Different Versions of a Radio Ad

Steve Oakes, University of Central Lancashire, England
ABSTRACT - This study examines the relationship between background musical tempo and perceptions of the duration of three versions of the same radio ad (fast tempo/slow tempo/no music) using digital music technology to isolate the tempo variable whilst retaining other musical variables as constants. The experiment reveals how mean estimates of the duration of the fast version are significantly higher than those for the no music version. Although no significant difference in perceived duration is revealed between the slow and fast versions, the results are encouraging enough to indicate the need for further research experimenting with even wider variations in tempo.
[ to cite ]:
Steve Oakes (1999) ,"Examining the Relationship Between Background Musical Tempo and Perceived Duration Using Different Versions of a Radio Ad", in E - European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, eds. Bernard Dubois, Tina M. Lowrey, and L. J. Shrum, Marc Vanhuele, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 40-44.

European Advances in Consumer Research Volume 4, 1999      Pages 40-44

EXAMINING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN BACKGROUND MUSICAL TEMPO AND PERCEIVED DURATION USING DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF A RADIO AD

Steve Oakes, University of Central Lancashire, England

ABSTRACT -

This study examines the relationship between background musical tempo and perceptions of the duration of three versions of the same radio ad (fast tempo/slow tempo/no music) using digital music technology to isolate the tempo variable whilst retaining other musical variables as constants. The experiment reveals how mean estimates of the duration of the fast version are significantly higher than those for the no music version. Although no significant difference in perceived duration is revealed between the slow and fast versions, the results are encouraging enough to indicate the need for further research experimenting with even wider variations in tempo.

PROBLEM DEFINITION

The underlying hypothesis which drives this particular study is the contention that there is a significant, positive relationship between background musical tempo measured in beats per minute (BPM) and respondent perception of temporal duration. Whilst various studies (e.g. Frankenhauser 1959; Ornstein 1969; Piaet 1969; Zakay et al 1983; Bickel 1984) have confirmed a significant, positive relationship between metronomic tempo (i.e. using a metronome rather than a musical stimulus) and perceived duration, no studies support the existence of a similar relationship between musical tempo and perceived duration. This research seeks to establish that such a relationship also exists when the background tempo is varied using musical, rather than merely metronomic accompaniment.

When considering the use of music in ads, Scott (1990) argued that music can be used to make the perceived ad time shorter than the actual ad time. If such music can be harnessed appropriately, it may be used to reduce boredom and maintain the attention spans of ad viewers/listeners. This view was supported by Kellaris and Mantel (1996), who argued that an ad which seems to be shorter than its actual running time is less likely to be 'zapped’ by listeners using the remote control unit. Therefore, if carefully selected background music can be used to reduce subjective time estimation, thereby enhancing the attention span of consumers exposed to ads, it may then have a positive impact upon consumer recall of ad content.

Conversely, Kellaris and Mantel (1996) also argued that commercial cost saving benefits could be derived from augmenting perceived duration, e.g. by achieving the memorability impact of a 30 second ad exposure with just a 20 second ad slot. This supports research (Kellaris and Kent 1992) which argued that sellers might benefit from increasing, rather than decreasing the perceived duration of ad exposure.

Although research into the effects of musical tempo have an extensive history (e.g. Rigg 1940), early studies were hampered by the inability to manipulate tempo in isolation. If they increased the speed of their tape recording, it would raise the pitch of the notes. Alternatively, if they recorded multiple performances of the same piece at different speeds, this would be very time consuming, and would suffer from confounding tempo with variations in performance (Kellaris and Rice 1993). Many recent studies have taken advantage of digital technology to explore the effects of varying tempo (e.g. Kellaris and Kent 1991; Kellaris and Rice 1993; Herrington and Capella 1996), or have used a programmable keyboard (Holbrook and Anand 1990) whilst keeping the other variables constant. Kellaris and Kent (1992) have used this technology to isolate the effects of varying harmony (modes).

Empirical study conducted as part of this research (carried out on November 20th/21st 1997) acknowledges the desirability, where possible, of observing the effects of manipulating individual musical variables whilst retaining the rest as constants. Consequently, this experiment focuses upon the musical tempo variable in isolation from other variables.

For this study, advantage is taken of advances in electronic music technology that facilitate the reproduction of digital musical data at various speeds without altering the other musical elements. Using the appropriate hardware and software technology of MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface), an electronic synthesiser that plays back the edited musical data can produce original textures, as well as reproducing the wave patterns and sound textures of acoustic musical instruments. Original instrumental compositions have been used here in order to circumvent the potentially confounding effects of lyrics, prior exposure and emotional associations.

Much research has been undertaken into the communicative capacity of poetry/drama/fiction (e.g. Wimsatt 1954), contrasting authorial intention (the intentional fallacy) with reader/literary critic interpretation (the affective fallacy). In comparison to such verbal communication studies, research into the impact of non-verbal musical communication upon consumer response within a commercial context is still relatively sparse. There is then a clear need for more comparable research exploring the relationship between advertiser intention and consumer interpretation of music used in advertising. Likewise, the use of specific musical evices in advertising (e.g. dissonance resolving to consonance) is capable of influencing consumer behaviour in ways that have not yet been adequately documented in academic marketing literature. Research is needed which will enable managers to predict with more certainty the ways in which consumers will respond to the musical stimuli they are exposed to. A deeper understanding of the objective structural properties of music is required in order to reduce managerial dependence upon subjective consumer interpretation and response to the music they hear in both ads and service settings.

Although it is impossible to negate the influence of musical culture upon subjective response to musical stimuli, the experiment conducted as part of this research attempts to minimise the influence of inherent preferences and prejudices by using a short (40 seconds), originally composed digital composition. The underlying intention is to provide a more 'neutral’ musical stimulus than many other studies which have used well known popular and classical compositions in their entirety (e.g. Areni and Kim 1993; North et al 1998).

In seeking to verify that a significant, positive relationship exists between background musical tempo and subjective time estimation, it is acknowledged that previous studies (e.g. Bickel 1984; Chebat, Gelinas-Chebat, Filiatrault 1993; Hui, Dube, and Chebat 1997; North et al 1998) have concluded that no such significant relationship exists. However, these studies did not use digital musical technology to alter tempo whilst keeping the other variables constant, thus increasing the likelihood of the presence of confounding effects.

METHOD

In order to ascertain the nature of the relationship between the independent variable (musical tempo) and the dependent variable (perceived duration), the pilot study consisted of a basic design laboratory experiment carried out in an artificial environment using 114 undergraduate student subjects divided into 3 cells of 38.

A real radio ad of 40 seconds duration was selected from a bank of radio ads. Three versions of this ad were recorded, with no variation in content or duration of the ad between recordings. The original 'dry’ ad was used to provide a control condition with no background music. Identical background music was superimposed over the other two recordings, with tempo as the only variation (90 BPM and 170 BPM). These tempo settings were slightly faster than the tempo settings used in a previous study (Kellaris and Rice 1993), which argued that it is unusual to hear music slower than 60 BPM or faster than 120 BPM in a service environment or a commercial. However, in this experiment, 60 BPM was considered too laboured a tempo for the musical genre to sound effective. In addition, pretesting indicated that this slow pulse sounded incongruous within the context of the rapid verbal delivery of the ad.

Whereas other simulated radio ad studies have used various classical music selections (e.g. Kellaris, Cox, and Cox 1993; Kellaris and Mantel 1996), the potentially confounding influence of other musical variables (e.g. genre, harmony, rhythm) has been minimised in this study by varying only tempo whilst holding the others as constants. In order to minimise as far as possible the confounding effects of such extraneous musical variables, the background music used in this research has been originally produced with the aid of musical software allowing reproduction of digital musical data at various tempi without altering other musical elements.

Undergraduate students were selected as an appropriate sample, since this age segment includes a particularly high proportion of the most frequent radio and music listeners (Mediamark Research Inc. 1989), and various studies (e.g. Kellaris, Cox, and Cox 1993) have acknowledged that they are regular targets for musical ads. The musical composition was designed to imitate styles of music commonly featured in youth-oriented ads, in rder to represent a genre of commercial music regularly targeted at this age segment (Kellaris and Kent 1992).

The dependent variable to be measured is the retrospectively perceived duration of the ad. The procedure involved randomly assigning 2nd year Marketing Management undergraduate students to a test ad, providing them with a written questionnaire and instructions similar to those provided to respondents in the Kellaris and Mantel (1996) study. The participants arrived by appointment over a period of two days, and were informed that they would each be listening to the same radio ad. Having listened to the ad using the cassette recorders and headphones provided, they were then asked to answer brief written questions concerning their attitude to the ad, their retention of its content, and their perception of its duration. They were not made aware that any variation existed between the ads in terms of musical background. By not revealing the true purpose of the experiment, it was hoped to minimise distortions associated with the 'Hawthorne effect’ which can arise when respondents alter their responses when they know they are being observed.

The questionnaire requested information to ascertain specific details regarding respondent attitude to the ad and content recall. Additional instructions read as follows: 'How long did the ad you have just heard seem to last? Try to be as precise as possible to the nearest second, even if you are not certain. Using the table below, please put a circle around the number which indicates how many seconds you thought the ad lasted’.

A table of numbers (1-180) was used in order to provide respondents with a full 3 minute span of perceived duration options. Pretests with an open-ended perceived duration question revealed the respondent tendency to 'round up’ duration estimates to the nearest multiple of 10 seconds. It was intended that the visual impact of the number table would overcome this problem by encouraging more precise responses to the nearest second.

For respondents listening to the ads with the slow and fast tempo musical accompaniment, an extra question was included on the questionnaire concerning their attitude to the music. This was considered to be important, since studies (Kellaris and Kent 1992; Hui et al 1997) have reported a significant relationship between musical valence and perceived duration.

An obvious problem with slowing down a 40 second musical sequence to half speed is that the musical sequence is only half way through when the recording ends. To cope with this, Kellaris and Rice (1993) used multiple versions of the composition. Slower versions containing the full musical sequence would thus last about twice as long as the fast version. Kellaris and Rice found no differences on any of the dependent measures (e.g. affective responses and behavioural intentions toward the music) between long and short versions of the slow treatment, thus implying that tempo effects are not confounded with duration or the number of notes heard.

Unlike the Kellaris and Rice study (1993), this study maintained all of the recordings at the same duration. This was achieved by using background music consisting of 4 bars repeating in a loop, rather than using a finite musical sequence. This ensured that the slow tempo version did not appear to end abruptly half way through a musical sequence.

This study also differed from the Kellaris and Rice (1993) study in that it sought to explore the impact of increased musical data (e.g. additional bars/notes) and increased tempo, but with temporal perception as the dependent variable, rather than emotional response to the music. It acknowledged cognitive models (e.g. Ornstein 1969; Fraisse 1984; Zakay 1989) which have suggested that increased stimulus information during a certain time period will cause the perceived duration of that time period to increase.

RESULTS AND DISCUSSION

Reslts calculated from responses to the experiment are shown below (Tables 1 and 2). In questions where there is only one possible correct answer (i.e. questions 2 and 3), the number of correct answers from each cell of 38 are included in bold print. Other responses to questions 2 and 3 are included for the sake of completeness, but they are all considered to be equally incorrect. Responses to Question 4 allow comparison of mean perceived duration estimates for each of the 3 treatment conditions. Although there were the same number of respondents in each cell (38), where more than one answer has been ticked for a particular question, both answers have been included in the results, and the cell size total has been modified accordingly. The overall results were as shown in the Tables.

TABLE 1

RADIO ADVERTISING EXPERIMENT RESULTS

TABLE 2

MEAN PERCEIVED DURATION AND SAMPLE STATISTICS

Comparing Perceived Duration Under the 90 BPM and Control Condition Treatments

Using a one-tail test at the 5% level of significance, the results conclude that the mean perceived durations do not differ significantly. However, since the mean perceived duration of the 90 BPM treatment is 5 seconds greater than the control condition treatment, it is possible that differences in duration estimates only reach a level of significance beyond a specific BPM tempo level.

Comparing Perceived Duration Under the 90 BPM and 170 BPM Treatments

Using a one-tail test at the 5% level of significance, the results conclude that the mean perceived durations do not differ significantly. However, the difference in mean perceived duration between the two groups is substantial enough to merit further experimental research using tempo variations wider than the variation between 90 BPM and 170 BPM.

It is interesting to note that the fast music treatment led to a greater degree of inaccuracy in estimations than did the slow music treatment. This result contradicts the findings of a study by North et al (1998), whose experimental findings concluded that 'slow music led to a greater degree of inaccuracy in estimations’ when compared to fast music. However, the latter study did not use digital musical technology to isolate the tempo variable from other musical variables.

Comparing Perceived Duration Under the 170 BPM and Control Condition Treatments

Using a one-tail test at the 5% level of significance, the results conclude that the mean perceived duration at 170 BPM is significantly greater than the mean perceived duration in the no music control condition treatment. The fast music treatment led to a greater degree of inaccuracy in estimations than did the no music control condition treatment.

As the faster music treatment in Experiment 1 contained more data than either the slow or no music treatments, this result could be viewed as generally supportive of the storage-size theoretical model of temporal perception (Ornstein 1969) which explained how subjective estimates of stimulus duration are larger for complex stimuli than for simple ones. With this model, the relationship between task complexity or information processing load and perceived duration is positive. It tends to disconfirm attentional models of temporal perception (e.g. Frankenhauser 1959) which argued that the relationship between task complexity or information processing load and perceived duration is negative.

Comparing the Number of 'Accurate’ Content Recall Responses Under the Different Treatments

Although the main focus of this experiment was upon the perceived duration variable, it is interesting to note that estimates of actual duration and ad content recall responses were both less 'accurate’ at the fast tempo (170 BPM). Responses to Question 2 (Table 1) indicate o difference in the number of subjects who accurately recalled the advertised product under the 90 BPM and control condition treatments (30 in each case). However, at the faster tempo of 170 BPM, there were only 20 accurate recollections of the advertised product, which could indicate that the increased complexity of message processing caused by the additional musical data at the fast musical tempo resulted in a distraction from content recall.

The same pattern is in evidence in responses to Question 3, revealing 29 correct content recall responses under the control treatment, 24 correct content recall responses at 90 BPM, and only 19 correct content recall responses at 170 BPM. Such a pattern could be worrying for advertisers using music in an attempt to enhance the communicative power of their ad message, although the artificiality of the experimental situation does not take into account the value of critical factors such as music’s attention gaining capacity.

LIMITATIONS

Limitations with this experiment need to be noted. Firstly, the convenience sample of undergraduates reduced the generalisability of the findings. In addition, the search for a usable radio ad without existing background music or extraneous noise proved problematic, since the overwhelming majority of radio ads targeted at this age group already had background music. This resulted in a compromise when selecting a 'dry’ ad, which meant that the product (windows and doors) was not primarily targeted at this group of respondents. It would be desirable to repeat the experiment with older subjects who would be a more obvious target segment for the advertised products. Further research is also needed to establish whether tempo effects are likely to be curvilinear in nature, or whether they are only likely to appear beyond a specific BPM threshold.

An additional limitation of the experiment was the high attentiveness paid to the radio ad in this focused experimental context. The use of headphones to shut out extraneous noise emphasised the need to concentrate on the content of the ad, and thus created a particularly artificial advertising environment. Although the laboratory environment experimental situation allowed more precise filtering out of extraneous and potentially confounding musical variables, thus enhancing internal validity, it is difficult to ascertain to what extent results provided a prediction (in terms of external validity) of the way in which people would respond to given musical stimuli in an authentic commercial context.

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