You are on page 1of 4

Benjamin F. M.


Music as persuasion
Whether recreational or purposeful, music has demonstrated to be a significant form of
persuasion. It has proven more effective in the past half century than ever before. It seems easy
to understand that it is appealing, but the why is more difficult. As a people music seems inherent
to our nature. History has an innumerable amount of cultures past and present which have had
their own forms of music and strived to make instruments with what they could. It can take on
myriad purposes. For example it can be a form of religious worship; it can serve as a motivator,
be entertaining, or even a form of therapeutic release or catharsis. Defined as “an art of sound in
time that expresses ideas and emotions in significant forms through the elements of rhythm,
melody, harmony, and color.” The very definition includes the “expression of ideas and
emotions” or what some may call Logos (logic) and Pathos (emotion) in circles of persuasion.
And should the song contain lyrics of right and wrong, which many do, music also incorporates
ethos (Ethics) into the equation. Mythos -- storytelling -- is at the core of countless songs, from
ancient tunes filled with folklore to the modern day rapper ruminating on his struggles in the
“hood”. To summarize, music facilitates persuasion in a bevy of methods.
To begin, music can tie into other theories of persuasion, namely the Elaboration
Likelihood Model (ELM). Song lyrics persuade, and when they do so it is because the meanings
behind the lyrics are processed centrally. The lyrics are carefully deliberated and evaluated by
receivers. This can be a potent tool, even more effective if the receiver considers the source to be
credible. A prime example is the anti-war sentiments found in much of the music in the 1960’s
and early 70’s, crying foul of the Vietnam War. The most blatant instance of centrally processed

lyrics is Edwin Star’s “War”, with lyrics clearly expressing the artist’s thoughts and seeking to
sway his audience: “war, yea, what it is good for - absolutely nothing!” The public, especially
adolescents confer credibility to celebrities. They value their opinion, in this case adding fuel to
the anti-war sentiment, effectively acting as a form of persuasion; celebritocracy of a different
Music can also tie into ELM’s peripheral processing. In this case you can hear the music,
but not actively participate in it. Background music can prove to be a subtle yet effective means
of influencing a person’s mood or emotions without their complete awareness. Even when other
stimulus is being absorbed music is often the foundation of your perception, it is a “sneaky
persuader”. I defy you to watch a recent film that has no music in its entirety. Why you might ask
…? Because the music is persuading audiences to feel a certain way about the actions on screen.
A man may be pouring his heart out to his love – cue the soft ballad; our beloved action hero is
running full throttle through a building with explosions close behind – heavily thrilling music is
in concert with the action. Be aware that this is a conscious decision on the creator’s part. Even
politicians employ the technique by playing ominous music when slandering opponents and
benevolent tones when promoting themselves. Another surprising peripheral effect has arisen;
music can allow us to peripherally process other messages, including messages from our own
body. Music can persuade us to tune out (peripherally process) undesired information. Music has
scientifically been proven to boost endurance by up to 15% by reducing perceptions of effort.
Basically, by trying to sync up your physical efforts with the beat or by tuning in to the song you
process the music centrally, but the pain in your body or thoughts of quitting are processed
peripherally; effectively helping you manage the rigors of exercise. It can even aid in stress
relief, listening to a song with a positive message (more persuasion) can be almost therapeutic

when feeling morose. Again you process the ill-feelings peripherally while “losing yourself” in
the Music.
Advertisers are well aware of the powerful effects of music in persuasion as well,
incorporating it into everything from television advertising to supporting shoppers in their
purchasing efforts. Music can support a brands image if used properly. Depending on how you
wish your product to be perceived determines the type of music you elect to accompany your
advertising. If you seek to convey trust, goodwill, or yes even rebellion, find the most
appropriate song that will your persuade your audience to perceive your product as such. Music
also benefits advertisers due to sheer exposure. Have you ever heard a song so much it get “stuck
in your head”, that is the mere exposure effect at work. Repeated exposure increases liking, get
them to like a song and in turn translate said liking to your product. Music can help purchasers to
remember a slogan, remember the old “byyyyyyy Menan” jingle, two simple words that would
echo in your mind officially serving the advertisers wants: for you to think about their product
even when the ad is absent. Finally, retailers utilize background music (peripheral cues) to affect
mood. As stated in the aforementioned annotated bibliography, you can delicately nudge
(persuade) your shoppers into particular actions, with the right music. Now most may assume
that the music used would only influence shoppers to increase the quantity of their purchases, but
it can also direct them to make higher quality purchases. By using music that shoppers would
translate as having higher value they subconsciously translate those thoughts into their actions,
thereby purchasing items at a higher cost.
Music is a commanding tool in terms of persuasion -- when used in the applicable
framework. Whether it is ELM, political ambitions, advertising or personal use, it is a requisite

the music fit to be as effective as possible. The music should never be too powerful as to drown
out any verbal messages you seek to deliver.
In closing music is an effective tool that should be considered when trying to persuade,
but bear in mind that like all persuasion it happens on the listener’s terms and can never
outweigh verbal messages in terms of persuasion. It seem devious to utilize music in such a
manner but like all persuasion it is neutral, it is the advocates intent that truly determines the
morality of its use. Advocates should be aware of their own intentions as well as your target
audience, even if that audience is you yourself.