Can You Hear the Tension? Musical Tension-Release Effect on Affect and Recall in Advertising: An Abstract

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Tension and resolution exist as a universal structure in all music. It can increase a listener’s attention, even change a consumer’s cognitive state. Yet this powerful musical tool has not been studied in the context of how it shapes consumers’ attitudes towards advertising and brands. Through four experiments, we aim to understand these effects in more detail and outline the properties of this phenomenon. In addition, we aim to show how this effect is due to an underlying curiosity caused by the anticipation of the tension-resolution structure which in turn causes excitement. We also explore potential boundary conditions associated with consumer curiosity. Through four experiments and two pretests, we uncover evidence to support our six hypotheses. In our first experiment, we show how advertising with a tension-resolution musical structure (versus no resolution) has a net positive consumer attitude for the advertisement and induces higher curiosity and satisfaction levels in participants. Our second experiment explores how the placement of the tension-resolution structure in the ad changes advertising likeability. For this experiment we use a different musical stimuli (developed from the second pretest) which had two versions of the same song, one with the tension build and resolution structure in the first half of the experiment and the second with the same musical structure in the second half of the advertisement. In our third experiment, we show how the individual difference variable Need for Cognitive Closure (NFCC) explains this phenomenon of consumer attitudes towards musical tension resolution structure in music. These findings contribute to the music, consumer, branding, and advertising literatures in many ways. This research adds to the existing theories on music in advertising by highlighting positive effects from elements previously seen as negative in advertising, musical tension. In addition, this research adds to the musical literature by outlining boundary effects inherent in consumer individual difference variables and teases out the specifics of tension-resolution structures in music as in the duration, placement, and mediating factors that drive consumer attitudes.

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Developments in Marketing Science: Proceedings of the Academy of Marketing Science