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Does Christmas Music Increase Sales?

In 1986, Ted Nugent hated the idea of Muzak so much that he attempted to buy the company for
ten million dollars so that he could shut down the company.
I'm sitting in a restaurant on Sunday and the music playing over the speakers is a rather obnoxious blend of no name Christmas songs. Playing were knockoff versions of classic songs to deliver us into the spirit of the Holidays, but for myself, it made me want to leave. As I shoveled food into my mouth as quickly as I could, I contemplated that there are likely some people who absolutely hate Christmas and that they find themselves living in complete Hell for about two to three months out of every year. What might seem as blasphemy for those who live in North Pole, Alaska or Santa Clause, Indiana (yes they do exist), is likely Guantanamo style torture for my waitress. There's even a top ten most annoying Christmas song list with Grandma Got Ran Over by a Reindeer topping the charts. I'll admit, perhaps moving Christmas to a leap year schedule would increase the nostalgia for myself. Christmas seems to come too soon these day and there's a reason I feel this way. Businesses, radio stations and obsessive compulsive Christmas lovers have been slowly expanding the Christmas Season to the point we now have phrases like Merry Thanksgiveoween to explain the phenomenon of Christmas trees appearing in the hardware store on the first day of August. It's not always been this way. Some of us are having Christmas fatigue. Where did it all go wrong?

In the early 1900s, William Benton who began his career in advertising, acquired a utility company from Warner Brothers that pumped music into thousands of commercial businesses. Benton soon realized that he could manipulate shopping habits of customers by alternating the style of music, the beat of the tune and the duration of the intervals between songs. It was also found to have an effect on employee productivity. Realizing the potential, the company used the data it discovered and began commissioning it's own research along with a catalog of orchestrated music styled to influence behavior through stimulus progression.

Today there's a wide body of evidence that music elicits an emotional response. Companies use it to increase sales, the White House has used it affect political goals and NASA uses it keep astronauts from losing their connection with humanity in space. The music of our environment can decide if we have a favorable outlook and may even affect how we see a brand in a positive or negative light.

 What does this mean for people in public relations? I find that too often our social media responses are very binary. A picture, a quote, a URL link. What often is missing is that emotional connection to the audience. Can you imagine your favorite motion picture without its soundtrack? Yet, it's a cautionary tale because Christmas music has become repetitive, antiquated and cliche. It has been found to decrease sales in some cases by as much as 20%. Your audience has to be responsive to the stimulus they're given and many of us aren't. Data suggests a level of negative reactance by consumers when it comes to being overstimulated with the same song over and over again. Whereby Top-40 music typically increases sales (because it's always changing), in the case of Christmas music, consumers see it as a pushy sales technique akin to a used car salesman. What might be considered clever and logical to those in marketing is often seen as manipulation by the public. It's giving consumers Christmas PTSD. Lesson 1: never think you're smarter than your audience.

Lesson 2: Whatever space you work in, whether it be social media, internal communications or managing the environment of a retail space, recognize how sensory communications can have an effect on your audience. It's not always what you say, but how your outreach makes your audience feel. So light some candles, pour some wine and put on your favorite jazz album but please, no Jingle Bells for me. For the rest of you, I'll leave you with this:

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