The Power Of Audio: Actual Vs. Perceived


(By Bob McCurdy) Every day we sell the impact of audio and how it motivates the radio listener to act upon the commercial messaging that’s broadcast over the airwaves as well as online.

One of our challenges continues to be getting audio’s “perceived” ability to impact behavior and purchases to jibe with “reality.” A way that I’ve found effective is to highlight to clients the various ways audio and sound have permeated our lives that have either been taken for granted or have just plain flown under their radar. Here goes:

Can two musical notes sell movie tickets? Yep.

Two-notes, E & F did. Steven Spielberg attributed much of Jaws’ success to them, stating that “without John Williams’ score, Jaws would have been only half as successful.”

Can audio brand? For sure.

Intel has effectively branded itself with only sound, no copy, no artwork, no video, or visuals.

Can the human voice impact us emotionally? Certainly.

The University of Wisconsin conducted a study where children were put in stressful situations and found that the sound of a mother’s voice was physiologically as soothing as a physical hug or a pat on the back by the mother.

Can audio stop crime? It has.

When classical music was played in parks and train stations in England, it has resulted in a 33% decrease in crime. Beethoven trumped thuggery.

Can audio assist people in overcoming their fears? Clearly.

In the 1920’s people were terrified to ride in an elevator. They had never gotten in a metal box that went up hundreds of feet in the air. Muzak developed soothing music to get the people to relax while in the elevator. Hence the term “elevator music.” This soft music produced endorphins in the body which soothed and relaxed.

Can audio influence what we drink? Undoubtedly.

A study in England took two wines from different countries and tried to determine if the music played in the store influenced the wine that was purchased. The wines had the same sweetness/dryness/price/shelf spacing.

On days when French music was played, French wine outsold German wine 4-1. On days when German music was played, German wine outsold French wine 3-1 despite a strong natural preference for French wine. Asked why they chose the wine they did when checking out, few mentioned the music. On the days when no music was played, French wine vastly outsold the German wine. What we hear impacts our purchasing habits consciously and unconsciously. Think the noise that’s made when opening up a bottle of Snapple is a mistake?

Can sound impact gambling habits? Of course.

Years back, the Bellagio Hotel went to coinless slots. Their slot revenue dropped -24%. Gamblers like to hear the sound of their winnings. The coinless slot machines were replaced. Soundless slots failed the same way silent vacuums failed. People equated the sound of a vacuum with its effectiveness.

Can audio influence movie stars careers? True.

In the 1920s many silent film stars could not make the transition to “talkies” — Clara Bow, Gloria Swanson, John Gilbert, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford couldn’t, to name a few. If sound and audio were not so keenly impactful, why would so many advertisers spend millions of dollars to have famous actors/actresses voice their commercials but not appear on screen?

Can audio alone sell cars? Aye.

Mercedes has engineers dedicated to enhancing the sound of doors, same with Lexus. Porsche created a TV commercial touting its $85,000 Cayenne that was totally dedicated to the sound of its engine. View it here. Volkswagen did the same here. Harley Davidson felt so strongly about its engine sound that they litigated for seven years to protect it and Ford went so far as to digitize the sound of Steve McQueen’s ’68 Mustang in the movie Bullitt, duplicating it in current Mustang models.

Does what we hear impact the food we purchase? Affirmative.

Bahlsen, Germany’s largest cookie manufacturer, has a team of people working full time to ensure that their cookies sound just right when bitten into. Kellogg’s tried to trade mark the sound of their flakes, going as far as hiring a Danish lab to generate a signature sound to differentiate it from all other corn flakes.

Can a few seconds of audio serve to immediately identify a product?

Check out this NBC/Martin Lindstrom vignette here.

Finally, these two quotes. I love them as they come from two very different sources, with one directly and one indirectly highlighting the importance of what enters our ears:

“The problems of deafness are deeper and more complex, if not more important than those of blindness. Deafness is a much worse misfortune than blindness for it means the loss of the most vital stimulus, the sound of the voice that brings language, sets thoughts astir and keeps us in the intellectual company of man.” — Helen Keller

“After analyzing hundreds of effective positioning programs, we ran into a surprising conclusion: the programs were all verbal. There wasn’t a single positioning concept that was exclusively visual. We have come to the conclusion that the mind works by ear, not by eye.” — Jack Trout, Marketing Strategist

Radio advertising is free from the constriction of visuals, and is personal and individually addressable, taking people in their minds only to places they’ve been, which results in each person filling in their own “blanks” and being in charge of what they see. Make no mistake, audio and sound impacts what we think, how we act, what we believe, and what we purchase. There are some advertisers that should believe in the impact of what enters our ears as firmly as some manufacturers.

Bob McCurdy is Vice President of Sales for the Beasley Media Group and can be reached at [email protected].


  1. Quite so, Bob.
    And good on ya.
    We (people) take so much of our environment for granted, and that’s necessary in order to respond to other variables with which we are presented, and that might be more important at the time.
    Radio’s communicative potentials, however and as you already know, have yet to be studied, determined and applied – at least not on a scale that would prove meaningful.
    Hence, the same ol’ – same ol’.

    By the way, that “filling in the blanks” – thingy has a high falutin’ name, as well: “Transderivational Search”.
    (Because I like you, I’m here to help you.) 🙂


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