Loud Restaurant Music Favors Burgers?

Nashville Hard Rock CafeWill loud restaurant music make us all order burgers and fries instead of a salad? Based on a study in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Sciences, you might think so. A press release and the resulting news stories make it sound cut and dried. But it’s worth stepping back to think about what this research is really telling us.

In truth, these marketing researchers looked very simply and carefully at just one factor in isolation – music and noise volume. But the real world of marketing, dining, and entertainment is not nearly so tidy as this controlled research.

Eight Studies, One Conclusion

Dipayan Biswas, Kaisa Lund, and Courtney Szocs conducted a series of studies – a pilot, two field experiments, and five lab studies – to reach their primary conclusion. In a pilot study, they looked at the effect of ambient music volume on the degree of excitement or relaxation of students to loud or soft classical music. Heart rate served as a proxy and they found a trend toward a higher rate with louder music. It fell short of being significant (p < .07), but encouraged them to move on to more rigorous experiments.

So they moved into a real cafe and examined the effect of music volume on food sales. They compared the mix of healthy and unhealthy menu items that people ordered under quiet and loud music conditions. And they found significantly more healthy items when the music was quiet. Loud music favored the unhealthy items. In a lab setting, the results were similar. They tested different kinds of music and alternative explanations for the effects they saw. These tests kept bringing them back to the idea that loud music brings more excitement and more unhealthy choices.

For a final field experiment, they moved into supermarket setting. Yet again, they found that louder music favored unhealthy choices.

A Small Taste of the Marketing Mix

These researchers drilled down on a very specific question. Does ambient music and noise volume affect healthy food choices? With these studies they make a reasonable case. People make better choices in a quiet setting, perhaps because they’re more relaxed.

But here’s the thing. At its heart, marketing is a creative exercise. Nothing remains constant. New tools and creative strategies come into play constantly – all to serve the goals of the business. If those business goals are aligned with healthy outcomes for customers, marketing tools will serve that purpose.

Otherwise, just the opposite will tend to happen.

Click here for the study, here for the press release, and here for more from the Washington Post.

Burger, photograph © Michael Stern / flickr

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May 30, 2018