New research quantifies the emotional impact of music on advertising

Comprehensive 12 month research project by SoundOut and Goldsmiths, University of London, quantifies subconscious impact of music, measures the correlation to the conscious response, and provides a robust testing framework for brands and marketeers

  • Sound modulates the subconscious emotional response to advertising by up to 16.4%
  • Music is particularly powerful in changing the emotional response for some emotional attributes – like Peaceful, Intense and Defiant – but less so for others – like Technical, Spontaneous and Simple
  • Primary research underpinned by over 600,000 consumer responses and 10 million consumer datapoints
  • SoundOut to launch a world first with a fully benchmarked suite of technology tools to test the subconscious impact of music for brands

SoundOut, in partnership with the Music, Mind and Brain Research Group of Goldsmiths, University of London, has published the results of a year-long study into the emotional impact of music on consumers. The new findings reveal the subconscious impact of music – and, crucially, how it differs from the conscious response.

The report, named ‘A large-scale investigation into the effects of music in advertising’, builds on SoundOut and Goldsmiths’ work mapping the conscious emotional impact that music has on consumers.

Largely financed by the UK government’s Innovate Fund, the project was of unprecedented scale and ambition both in the field of academia and commerce. The findings provide a rigorous foundation for a suite of technology tools that will enable brands and agencies to harness the emotional impact of music to strengthen brand associations.

 Mapping the subconscious DNA of sound

Having already mapped the conscious emotional DNA of music, this major research study has not only mapped the subconscious emotional DNA of sound but also enabled emotional amplitudes to be measured and quantified. This enabled a robust analysis of the similarities and differences between how music emotionally impacts consumers on both a conscious and subconscious level. This is a major breakthrough for the use of music by brands. It enables them to have a strategic plan for when and how to use music at both a conscious and subconscious level.

The report reveals that the right music can increase the emotional response to a video by up to 16.4%, depending on the emotional attribute being evaluated.  Music is particularly powerful in changing the subconscious response for attributes such as Peaceful, Intense and Defiant – but less so for others – e.g. Technical, Spontaneous and Simple. Understanding this impact is important when selecting appropriate testing methodologies for music in branding and advertising.

Taking the findings of the report, SoundOut is now launching a fully-benchmarked, subconscious test for music, with very strong reliability and validity to ensure that commercial music choices are both on-brand and reinforce the key attributes that a brand wishes to communicate.

David Courtier-Dutton, Founder and CEO of SoundOut, said: “This research is of an unprecedented scale and depth, leveraging the expertise of some of the pre-eminent music psychologists in the world and inputs from over 600,000 consumers.  It delivers a rigorous framework for testing the emotional impact of music, both on a conscious and subconscious basis.

“In branding, advertising and social media, music is rarely, if ever, used in isolation. Instead, it is used to reinforce the mood or narrative of the message being delivered by an advert or marketing initiative and, ideally, the brand personality.  As a result, musical effectiveness is principally reliant on emotional synchronisation with visual content to optimise the desired subconscious response.  Benchmarking and measurement of this is therefore fundamental to optimising effectiveness.

“SoundOut will now use this research and map of the subconscious emotional DNA of music to develop a suite of tools. These will enable brands to identify the best music choices for brand and marketing impact at both a conscious and subconscious level.”

Professor Daniel Müllensiefen, Co-director of the MSc in Music, Mind and Brain at Goldsmiths, University of London, said: “The ability to run a study of this scale and ambition represents a huge step forward for the use of music in branding and marketing and adds considerably to the scientific understanding of the psychology of music.  In addition, it has created a robust academic foundation for testing the subconscious impact of music in the commercial world.”

Seb Silas, a Goldsmiths research scientist working on the project, added: “We intuitively know that music has the ability to influence our mood, and that it is used frequently to guide narrative and elicit certain sentiments in movies and TV. While the role of music in advertising is as pervasive, it has been less understood. Our results show that music even has the power to influence the way we perceive short visual scenes and imagery, like those used in advertising. Moreover, these effects can happen subconsciously in the perceiver, and differ depending on what sentiment you want to target. We are now able to predict such effects in a more detailed way than before, which is extremely useful to academics and practitioners alike.

Further analysis of the project, its findings and outputs will be presented in the following webinars:


Unlocking the Subconscious Power of Music 1: New Discoveries in Testing 

Wednesday, 25th May, 3-4pm BST

 Unlocking the Subconscious Power of Music 2:  Optimising the branding/marketing music mix 

Wednesday, 1st June, 3-4pm BST


Research methodology

The project involved individually testing over 3,000 audio/video and audio/image pairings alongside silent control videos in over 100,000 consumer tests where participants were asked to rate the video (not audio) across a standard inventory of emotional attributes. Using a variety of advanced statistical techniques, the impact of the video stimulus was then removed revealing the subconscious (System 1) effect of the music in isolation.

In a previous project involving the same audio assets, and generating over 7.5 million consumer datapoints, SoundOut had already identified and mapped the conscious effect of the same music with input from over 500,000 consumers.  Full details of the methodology and the results will be released in a white paper containing a more detailed description and analysis of the research on 25 May 2022.

About SoundOut

SoundOut is the world leader in strategic sonic branding and audio marketing testing. It has achieved this lead position by combining three powerful capabilities.

SoundOut works with many of the most iconic brands in the world (such as Amazon, DHL, Ford, GSK, TikTok, Toyota and Unilever) as well as all the major record labels and many leading radio groups. SoundOut specialises in helping organisations trigger the right emotional response from their customers by matching brand personality and attributes to music. As a result, SoundOut provides the data and insight needed by clients to increase the certainty of achieving a strong ROI from their audio branding and marketing investments.

SoundOut also works closely with academia to ensure that the latest advances in music psychology find application in the commercial sphere. It has recently completed an ambitious $500,000 research project, in partnership with Goldsmiths, University of London (funded by the UK government’s Innovate Agency) to map the subconscious (implicit) emotional DNA of music. This understanding of the implicit impact of music, and its relationship to the explicit impact within a marketing environment, will have fundamental implications for brands intent on building value and driving sales through music.

Clients can use SoundOut’s unrivalled sonic testing capability to: identify the effectiveness potential of new audio assets before they are launched; ensure that the right attributes are used to deliver against the business priorities for the audio assets and position audio assets on SoundOut’s Sonic Effectiveness Matrix to see how they are likely to perform against competitors.

SoundOut plans to transform the music catalogue management market when it launches, later this year, a truly revolutionary cyborg technology that will index huge music catalogues and enable brands to search these based on the personality or archetype of their brand.

As a result, SoundOut is well placed to capitalize on the three macro trends that are set to transform the B2B sonic landscape over the coming years:

  • Rapid growth in Sonic Branding
  • An increasing focus on strategic sonic marketing
  • The consolidation in the publishing/music catalogue space requiring new technologies to improve the monetisation of these assets.


Working with world leading music psychologists and over 500,000 consumers, it has mapped the explicit emotional DNA of sound and used this as the foundation for a suite of tools, such as BrandMatch, that can be used at various stages of sonic branding development to increase the certainty of a return on investment. The development of a wholly owned consumer panel of over 3.5 million people, which enables brands to test their sonic assets at scale.  The testing and analysis of almost 200 in market sonic logos (The SoundOut Index) that reveals the key criteria that are essential to audio branding and audio marketing success.