‘Tis the season for mall shopping, where various Holiday soundtracks emanating from adjacent storefronts, or “snowing” down from above, battle it out for dominance on the main walkways. It is striking that the “Holiday” continuity is maintained regardless, which begs the question of whether or not a cacophony of songs has become the primary soundtrack unifying the retail experience regardless of location. Given the prevalence of mall-going, to what extent has the expectation of the musical “mash-up” become part of consumers’ general perceptualization of overhead music?

As ethnomusicologist Jonathan Sterne has noted with regard to overhead music in Minnesota’s Mall of America (1997), the music of individual stores creates auditory boundaries between “inside” and “outside” for passers-by, which reinforce the sonic identity of each store. The louder the volume, the larger the transitional space in the walkways, and the more insistent the invitation for the shopper to come visit. But with all of the different sounds at play, could their juxtaposition, or rapid succession, end up de-sensitizing consumers to the distinctiveness of the sounds on offer by brands, causing them to take something like a Mood Custom music style for granted?

Perhaps this phenomenon is a subconscious factor in what appears to be a recent trend in brand re-invention. Shaking up expectations disrupts perceptualization, waking up the consumer to a sense of curiosity about new directions and what the changes hold in store (pardon the pun!), leaving  him to wonder ”What are they going to do next?” For instance, one of my fashion clients is re-branding in the direction of “adventure” and a daringly playful attitude. Their latest advertisement for down jackets displays a couple kissing against a brick wall wearing only the jackets and what looks like no pants. Their marketing director explained that the company is deliberately trying to push the buttons of their customer base with risqué, sexy imagery, so they want music that does the same while also compelling visitors to stay and browse once they have been “lured” inside.

But this Beyoncé-style surprise marketing strategy can only work if the brand identity/narrative at any given time is fully fleshed out, and presented as the truth of that brand. Then, when a new chapter of the story unfolds, the intended audience will be excited to keep “reading,” and the change will be more likely to be perceived as an “event.” Thus, it is important for Music Designers to remain flexible enough to provide consistency to a brand’s sound while being ready to shepherd it down new roads at any given moment.

– Submitted by Amy Frishkey, Music Design