Music and Radio Advertising: Effects of Tempo and Placement

George Brooker, Central Washington University
John J. Wheatley, University of Washington
ABSTRACT - An experiment examined the effects of music tempo and music placement in a radio ad. Dependent variables included feelings, attitudes, unaided recall, and purchase likelihood. Results showed tempo had expected effects on perception of the music, but no impact on dependent measures; structure of the ad (music placement) showed stronger effects on the dependent variables.
[ to cite ]:
George Brooker and John J. Wheatley (1994) ,"Music and Radio Advertising: Effects of Tempo and Placement", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, eds. Chris T. Allen and Deborah Roedder John, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 286-290.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 21, 1994      Pages 286-290


George Brooker, Central Washington University

John J. Wheatley, University of Washington

[The authors thank Mark S. Lawson for technical assistance in creating tapes and for knowledge in selecting musical pieces.]


An experiment examined the effects of music tempo and music placement in a radio ad. Dependent variables included feelings, attitudes, unaided recall, and purchase likelihood. Results showed tempo had expected effects on perception of the music, but no impact on dependent measures; structure of the ad (music placement) showed stronger effects on the dependent variables.

"Music hath charms . . ." as the adage goes. It also has an attraction for marketers. Music has been incorporated in advertising messages at least since the early days of radio broadcasting. In spite of its long history of use, the effects of music in advertising are only now beginning to be explored and understood. The question, "What is the effect of music in a commercial?" is beginning to receive increasing attention.

Those who produce radio commercials are forced to rely largely on their judgment and on trial and error when dealing with the question of whether or how to employ music. If a decision is made to use music, a number of other decisions must be made, e.g., whether it should be familiar or an original composition, classical or popular, its tempo and placement within the ad, its appropriateness for the product or service being advertised, and a host of other considerations. It is apparent that research is needed to address these questions.

Bruner (1990) has reviewed non-marketing as well as marketing studies of music effects. Among his conclusions are the notions that music has emotional meanings for people, and people experience feelings as a response to music. Additionally, when used in marketing situations, music is capable of affecting the behaviors as well as the feelings of consumers. However, advertisers must be aware that music can distract (Park and Young 1986), facilitate (Hecker, cited in Alpert and Alpert 1991), or attract attention (MacInnis and Park 1991) of the listener based on elements such as the music's ability to generate emotion-laden memories, fit with the product, and its context.

A recent observation by Alpert and Alpert (1991) seems like an appropriate starting point for additional research on this topic. They observed that ads could be expected to shift from an affective to a cognitive emphasis as music's role in a commercial changed from strong to weak. This insightful observation suggests the likelihood that the placement of music in a radio commercial and the nature or structure of the musical accompaniment should be key elements affecting success. The research reported in this paper also answers the call of Kellaris and Cox (1987) for an investigation of the affective and cognitive impact of musical and commercial structure in a radio commercial. Attitude toward the ad, attitude toward the brand, message recall, feelings, and purchase intentions toward a brand in a popular product category are examined here. Tempo is the structural element of music which is studied; the position of the music in the commercial relative to the message is the structural element of the commercial which is explored.

Music Structure: Tempo

The studies of tempo cited most often are those of Milliman (1982, 1986). He found traffic in a supermarket moved more slowly when music was slow, and the increased time in the store resulted in increased sales; his later study found people lingered longer over restaurant meals with slow music, but bar bills (rather than food bills) were the elements leading to increased revenue. Bruner (1990) cites several studies where tempo affected perceptions of the music. Specifically, slower music was perceived as sad, faster tempi were perceived as happy. Kellaris and Kent (1991) found tempo affected perceptions of music's appealingness, arousingness, and behavioral intentions toward the music. Alpert and Alpert (1990) manipulated sad vs. happy vs. no music with tempo as one element involved in rating music as sad or happy. They found effects of music on subjects' moods and purchase intent, with sad music having more impact on selection than happy music, and a marginal superiority for sad vs. no music on purchase intention.

The effects of tempo, in summary, are: tempo can affect feelings, attitudes, behavior, perceptions, and stated intentions. Based on the studies of tempo cited, faster music would be expected to have a positive impact on emotion; it should increase the attention given to an ad, and should lead to positive effects on dependent measures in comparison with music in a slower tempo. None of the previous research has examined the effects of tempo, per se, on individual products or brands.

Hypothesis 1: Music tempo will influence attitudes, recall, feelings, and purchase intentions, with faster music having positive effects, and slower music having negative effects.

Commercial Structure

The effect of commercial structure (presence of music) is unclear; Sewall and Sarel (1986) found little impact of music in radio commercials on recall, while Hunt (cited in Bruner 1990) found recall was positively affected by the presence of music in radio commercials.

MacInnis, Moorman, and Jaworski (1991) present the viewpoint that advertising execution affects the motivation, opportunity, and ability to process brand information presented in the message. They note several aspects of advertisements which, for example, may lead consumers to increase the attention given to ads. Introducing novel stimuli, using prominent cues, and arousing curiosity are among the ways of increasing the attention-getting aspects of commercials. Many musical executions are novel; depending upon the format, they can be prominent; and music can be used to generate curiosity by being "interesting," surprising, and the like. Additionally, it has already been noted that music affects moods and feelings. It has been found that people, ". . . attend to stimuli that make them feel good" (Isen, et al., cited in MacInnis, Moorman, and Jaworski 1991). Therefore, it is to be expected that consumers will attend to ads containing music which has positive emotional content. In sum, the use of music in commercials has the potential to attract attention and increase the motivation of people to learn about the product or brand being presented.

However, music may also distract from the message. It would seem that music which attracts attention and leads the listener into the message portion of the ad should increase message processing, retention, and recall. Conversely, music which attracts attention will divert some processing capability from the message, reducing ability to process, retain, and recall information. The structure of the commercial may be used to influence these outcomes. Placement of music at the beginning of the message, without a voice-over, could draw attention and act as a lead-in to the message, increasing message effects. Placement of music in the background of the voice-over could draw some attention from the message, reducing its effects. Although there is no prior evidence regarding attitude toward the ad and attitude toward the brand, these are intervening variables in the buying process; they would also be expected to be influenced similarly by the position of the music.

Hypothesis 2: Music position in an ad will influence, attitudes, recall, purchase intention, and feelings, with music at the start of the message having positive effects, and music as background having negative effects.


The research design was a 2 X 2 factorial with a control group. The factors were slow music/fast music and music-as-introduction/music-as-background to a radio commercial. The control group received a voice-only version of the commercial, without any music.

The test commercial (for ice cream) was the middle commercial in a set of three presented to consumers. The other two commercials were for an airline and a retailer. The placement of the test commercial was intended to avoid primacy and recency effects.

Copy for the test ad was developed professionally, and the announcer reading the copy was on the staff of a major radio station in the Northwest. Versions of all three commercials had been used in a previous research project.

Considerations in selection of music for the test ad included: appropriateness for the product, congruence with the announcer's voice, identifiable differences in tempo between selections, and comparable familiarity of the selections chosen.

Several styles of music were pretested. Ultimately, selections from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons: Summer" were chosen for the slow/fast manipulations. All musical versions of the commercial used material from the first sixty seconds or the last sixty seconds of the piece. Pretesting indicated these differed in tempo (first :60 is slow, 76 BPM; last :60 is fast, 142 BPM); the selections met the subjective criteria and dealt with the familiarity issue by being parts of the same musical work.

Musical versions of the test commercial were created using the sixty second selections as background for the voice portion of the commercial (fast or slow music versions), or with the first thirty seconds of each tempo version as an introduction to the commercial. In the music-as-introduction versions, there were twenty seconds of music prior to the voice message, and the music was faded out over the first ten seconds of the announcer speaking. In all versions, musical volumes were equal (except as it was being faded), and quiet enough to have the announcer's voice dominate the presentation. The text was identical in all three versions.

Information gathered included: preferred types of programming (for a local radio station); unaided recall of products advertised, brand names, and flavor of the ice cream; measures (on 1-10 point scales) of attitude toward the test ad and the brand; a purchase likelihood measure (on a 1-10 point scale) for the test ad product; semantic differential measures (5 point scales) of feelings engendered by the test commercial; manipulation checks; preferred music types (for the local radio station); and demographics (education level, marital status, age, and sex).

The feelings measures included sixteen bipolar adjectives. The measures and the instructions for their use were developed from the work of Edell and Burke (1987). These researchers identified sixty-nine adjectives people had used to describe how ads made them feel. Examination of their list indicated some were polar opposites of the same dimension. The feelings measures used here were put into semantic differential form for ease of response, clarity, and interpretability. Using Edell and Burke's list, polar opposites were paired using Osgood, Suci, and Tannenbaum's (1957) listings of opposites. For those descriptors not presented in Osgood, et al., a thesaurus was used to develop polar opposites.

Feelings were chosen from each of Edell and Burke's three types (upbeat, negative, and warm) in approximately equal numbers. The final set of adjectives was chosen for their apparent unique contributions. (Many of Edell and Burke's descriptors appear highly correlated; they are used as synonyms for each other in a thesaurus.)


The study was conducted in and around a small Northwestern community which houses a university. Subjects were adults. An attempt was made to minimize the number of students in the study, but this proved difficult because more than half those over age eighteen in the area were students.

People were run individually in the experiment. Interviewers ascertained that individuals had not participated in the study previously, then led them through the procedure. After warm-up questions and questions about preferred programming, individuals were told they would be listening to some radio ads, and should do so as they would any other ads they would hear on the radio. The particular version of the test ad they heard was determined randomly. A Walkman was used in each case to deliver the three commercials in the set of ads. Following the listening experience, the recall, attitude, purchase likelihood, feelings, and other measures were collected; people were thanked and the interview was terminated.


A total of 100 people participated in the study, with 20 in each treatment condition. The sample was 54% female; most (58%) had some college, with an additional 33% having college degrees or graduate school education. Only 26% were married and 62% were single. Ages ranged from 19 to 75, with a mean age of 27.9 years.

Manipulation checks indicated that fast music was perceived as faster (t=-6.18, 77 d.f., p <.001) and more cheerful (t=1.93, 77 d.f., p <.03) than slow music. Music-as-introduction was somewhat (t=-1.28, 78 d.f., p <.11) more effective than music-as-background in leading people to want to listen to the ice cream ad. A measure of concentration indicated a slight tendency (t=1.15, 78 d.f., p <.13) for those exposed to music-as-background to have more difficulty concentrating on the ice cream ad than those in the music-as-introduction condition.

The differences between the music manipulations and the no-music control group were examined using oneway ANOVA. The presence of music led people to state they had difficulty paying attention to the ad in comparison to the no-music control group. Tests using Duncan's multiple range procedure indicated fast music led to greater reported difficulty concentrating (p <.05) than no music; placement of music in the background of the ad, similarly, made it marginally more difficult (p <.10) to concentrate than no music.

The number of correct unaided recall answers was summed for the questions on type of product advertised, brand name, and flavor for the ice cream ad. This created an unaided recall measure. This measure and the other dependent measures were subjected to a MANOVA with tempo and placement of music as independent variables. The result was significant, and ANOVAs were performed to explore individual results. Mean values for all measures are presented in Table One.







The first exploration involved the unaided recall measure. Table Two presents the result. This analysis indicates that placement of the music in a radio commercial has a significant impact on unaided recall. Those in the music-as-introduction condition remembered more pieces of information than those in the music-as-background condition.

Duncan's multiple range tests indicated the no-music control group remembered more information than those in the background music condition (p <.05), and the no-music control had a marginally (p <.10) improved recall over those in the fast music condition. ANOVAs also were done on the attitude and purchase likelihood measures. There was a marginal (p <.11) effect of music placement on attitude toward the ad, with music-as-introduction more favorable than music-as-background. Results on attitude toward the brand were weaker still, although the pattern was similar.

The likelihood of purchase ANOVA result is presented in Table Three. Again, placement of the music is the only factor influencing the outcome. Music used as an introduction to the commercial leads to higher purchase likelihood than music-as-background to the ad. The no-music control group did not differ significantly with either music-receiving group on purchase likelihood or the attitude measures (Duncan's test).

The semantic differential measures of feelings engendered by the ice cream commercial were subjected to a factor analysis using principal components with Varimax rotation. The four-factor rotated result is presented in Table Four. Total variance explained was sixty-six per cent.

MANOVA and ANOVA were performed on the "feelings" factors. Only the first factor produced a significant result. The ANOVA for it is presented in Table Five. Once more, only the placement of music in the commercial has a significant effect. In this case, background music developed a negative set of feelings compared with introductory music.

Oneway Analysis of Variance also was performed on the feelings factors to examine the impact of the no-music condition with the music factors. Once more, only the first factor displayed differences at the .05 level. This analysis revealed that both the no-music and introductory music conditions differed from the background music condition which produced more downbeat feelings (pun intended) than the first two. Marginally significant (p <.10) results were found between the no-music group and background music group on the second factor, between no-music and introductory music on the fourth factor, and between no-music and slow music on the fourth factor.


This research presents a surprising result: although the earlier differences emerged regarding perceptions of slow/fast on tempo, and faster music was perceived as more cheerful than slow music, tempo had no significant effects on any of the feelings, attitudinal, recall, or purchase likelihood measures for the product. This is a distinct contrast to previous findings that tempo affected behavioral intentions (Kellaris and Kent 1991). However, those behavioral intentions were directed toward the music, itself (e.g., intention to listen to the music again, intention to purchase the music, etc.), not toward a product or brand advertised using music. The Alpert and Alpert (1990) findings regarding perceptions and purchase intention were confounded by the inclusion of other musical elements with tempo in a mixed factorial design. Thus, there is no way to determine the unique effects of tempo from their study. From this research, it appears that the effects of tempo are not a direct influence for an individual product. Tempo's effects appear to influence perceptions of the music and attitudes and behaviors toward music, but this influence is not transferred to the product-related elements measured here.





Perhaps some of the difference between the findings of this research and those of Alpert and Alpert (1990) may be ascribed to the fact that they used different musical pieces to change tempo, while this study did not. It is possible that their results reflect the reactions of subjects to the different musical pieces. Alpert and Alpert took great care in constructing their manipulations, but this element was not controlled. Kellaris and Kent's (1991) work used music composed by one of the authors to fit a particular style, and their confirmatory experiment used three musical pieces. Certainly, the confirmatory experiment presents a similar problem of different musical pieces. The original experiment, using music composed for the research, is more problematic. As a new piece, it may be novel, stimulate curiosity, and otherwise increase motivation to pay attention to the ad (MacInnis, Moorman, and Jaworski 1991). However, results were limited to the music, itself; there was no attempt to generalize to other variables.

The Milliman (1982,1986) effects were found with generalized behaviors. Marketing effects were secondary phenomena resulting from the generalized behaviors. Again, different musical pieces were used as stimuli, and the previous comments apply.

Tempo did have some of the anticipated results. Consistent with previous research, faster music was perceived as more cheerful than slower music. Additionally, there was a slight effect of tempo, as the control group had marginally better recall of advertising information than those receiving the fast tempo music. It is not as if tempo has no impact on a commercial's effects. However, the direct effects are somewhat muted and may be in a direction the advertiser does not want to develop. As Alpert and Alpert (1991) have pointed out, commercials which have music dominant tend to be affect-based rather than cognitive-based. The results of this research are consistent with that position, showing lowered information recall with fast music compared to no-music. Advertisers need to be quite specific regarding the objectives of their advertising on the cognitive/affective dimension, recognizing there is apt to be a trade-off here regarding the use of music, especially when a faster tempo is used.

Commercial structure effects were more pronounced and pervasive. Placement of music in the commercial had clearly significant effects on information recall, purchase likelihood, and the joyous-melancholic feelings factor, with the expected directional effects on attitude toward the ad and attitude toward the brand. In all cases, music-as-introduction to the ad generated more positive results than music-as-background to the ad. Marginal differences found on a measure of difficulty in concentrating on the message and measured desire to listen to the ad also favored the music-as-introduction commercial structure. These results are clear in favoring the music-as-introduction structure over music used as background.

These results are consistent with the views of MacInnis, Moorman, and Jaworski (1991): advertising execution does affect motivation and ability to process information. In this study, music acted to distract individuals from the message (in the background condition), restricting ability to process information; it also acted, marginally, to invite attention to the message (in the introduction condition), motivating people to process the message. The multitudinous tasks music can perform in an ad (Scott 1990) are represented further here in developing feelings of joyousness from an introductory position, and in the marginal impact on other feelings based on position and tempo.

The finding of effects of commercial structure on purchase likelihood extends the process closer to its natural conclusion. Obviously, purchase is not examined here, but that is a logical next step. Music has been shown to affect behavior. The behavioral intention effects seen here should be extended in further research.

The Sewall-Sarel/Hunt discrepancy appears to have at least a partial explanation here. Commercials in a straight announcement mode lead to greater recall than commercials using background music; however, commercials using music as an introduction have the same effect; and there is no difference between announcement-only and music-as-introduction. It should be noted that music-as-introduction ads were predominantly text, with music fading for the first ten seconds of the sixty second message, making that ad closely comparable to the announcement-only ad in terms of message content presentation. It could be expected that the message in these two cases will be relatively clear and uncontaminated by other stimuli.

There were no significant interactions found in any of the ANOVAs. Bruner (1990) has suggested the possibility of interaction effects of musical components. This research examined only one musical component (tempo), so examination of component interactions is not feasible. The lack of interactions between music structure and ad structure suggests advertisers may need to concern themselves only with the major elements of the ad without regard for possible negative joint effects. On the other hand, absence of interactions here also may mean there are no synergies to be gained through combined effects, either.

It is worth noting that there was no programming included with the commercial presentations. As a result, there was nothing provided to direct attention away from the ads; indeed, individuals were told they would be listening to radio ads. In addition, this was a highly educated sample. This would seem to be a difficult set of conditions in which to demonstrate differences in variables such as unaided recall; nevertheless, differences were found. This suggests that a more natural listening mode might present even more substantial results. Without having attention directed to messages by researchers, listeners are apt to have their attention directed or diverted solely by the messages presented. This, certainly, is a notion worth further exploration.

The results of this research seem clear. As examined here, the structure of the music was less important than the structure of the ad in determining results. However, since only one element of music structure was examined, these results should be viewed cautiously. Other structural elements of music (e.g., pitch and texture) should be explored. With only a single music piece, it was not possible to manipulate many structural elements.


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