Tunes and melodies that sell schooners and bubbly

The type of the music played in a hotel or pub influences customers’ perceptions of that establishment.  Music answers questions like “How old are the other customers?  How up market is it?  Is it a good place to take my girlfriend, or is it the kind of place to watch some footy with my mates?”  And these perceptions will influence where customers go and what they order when they get there. 

For example, the “mates versus girlfriend” question is easily answered by whether an establishment plays Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” or Delta Goodrem’s “Almost Here”.  If it’s the former, a round of schooners is the way to go, but if it’s the latter, maybe two glasses of bubbly would be more appropriate.  Most managers know this.  It’s common sense as they say.

In addition to the format or genre of the music, the year a song was released says a lot about the age of the typical customer.  It turns out that most people form definitive, life-long preferences for music that was popular when they were young adults.  So if you hear AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” there’s a good bet that the pub is frequented by aging Baby Boomers now in their 50s.    

The “up market versus down market” question may have important ramifications for your bottom line.  Customers in up market environments tend to buy premium brands, which usually mean higher profit margins.  One study found that simply changing from a “Top 40” format to a “light classical” format increased dollar sales by a whopping 341 per cent!  Customers didn’t drink more – volume sales were largely unaffected – but they bought more expensive wines.  

Playing the right genre of music has a certain intuition behind it, but not so with tempo, because tempo often influences behaviour without people being aware of it.  Music tempo affects the speed at which people drink, literally the number of times they bring the glass to their mouth per minute.  Play faster music and patrons will drink more quickly, increasing dollar and volume sales. 

Music can also play a role in reducing or eliminating antisocial behaviour.  Pub managers believe that heavy metal music encourages aggressive, sometimes violent behaviour.  But when it’s time to cool things down a bit, a slow ballad like the Beatles’ “Let It Be” has a sedating effect on customers.  It’s a good way to keep a brawl from breaking out when somebody’s footy team has just lost the Grand Final.

By Charles S. Areni
Professor of Marketing, University of Sydney