behavioural research lab

Forever Young, by Carlos Lourenço

April 11, 2022

From brands to colleges to charity organizations or even political parties and politicians, nowadays virtually all those who need to reach an audience often employ modern communication strategies that include video ads featuring music, in particular, excerpts of songs that were popular at some point during the target audience’s coming-of-age period, the developmental stage that goes from adolescence to early adulthood.

But how does this strategy work? And, does it always work?

The much-promised effectiveness of such widespread practice aimed at grabbing the attention of video ad viewers is anchored on research in social and economic psychology, marketing, and related fields showing that consumers have strong preferences for information and cultural goods they first experience or are exposed to during their coming-of-age.

For instance, popular songs that hit the charts and that individuals listen to during that formative period appear to remain preferred throughout life. Past studies have suggested that these peaked preferences for popular songs are associated with those songs’ ability to evoke strong autobiographical memories and their accompanying emotions.

In a series of multi-method experimental studies that collected not only self-reported ad- and brand-attitudes but also actual brand name recall and blood oxygenation of brain areas, our team has challenged this simple view and has proposed and validated a more nuanced process by which coming-of-age songs in video ads may enhance their effectiveness.

Specifically, we have shown that song-evoked coming-of-age memories and emotions — and brand recall — are not affected by a video ad’s “coming-of-age song” — one that became popular when the video ad viewer was an adolescent to an early adult — directly or per se, but through the greater familiarity with that song that makes viewers like that song more.

In other words, an unfamiliar song, even if it became popular when a video ad viewer was coming-of-age, will not do.

Our studies have also revealed other limits to the coming-of-age music-based communication strategies. Specifically, video ads that play treasured coming-of-age songs but have a poor production that makes it blatant what their strategy is, have no greater effectiveness among viewers of the same age than video ads that play popular songs from other time periods.