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Shopper Brynn-sights: Christmas Music in August?

December, 5 2018

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Dr. Brynn
Written By
Dr. Brynn
In the Press

The Brainscience of Christmas Music in Retail: New Interview

Why do retailers continue to drone the holiday tunes? Does it drive you crazy? And why do some retailers starting pumping out Christmas music in September?

Well in short, because it works! People spend more money in-store and at retail when they feel nostalgic and can get into the 'holiday spirit'. Retail atomospherics around the holidays include what you see (decorations, trees, ornaments), smell (e.g. pine, chocolate, cinnamon), touch (e.g. plush, cozy, soft, comforting), as well and especially what you hear (timeless holiday classics): and these all work together on your senses to influence you in the retail space to buy more.

For more on this topic, Michael Hainsworth (of BNN) and Alan Cross (of CBC) interviewed Dr. Brynn on their  'Geeks & Beats' podcast - in response to a new article about the potential for Christmas Music to impeded your mental health: https://www.businessinsider.com/christmas-music-bad-for-mental-health-2017-11

Is there neuroscientific truth to this report? We discuss the facts behind consumer neuroscience of holiday shopping and Christmas music in-stores: 

LISTEN HERE: S06E13-Christmas-Music


  • ‘Spending all your energy trying not to hear what you’re hearing’ doesn’t account for the habituation effect – the brain has built in ability to habituate to all stimuli – including irritating ones (though it takes longer) so that irritants don’t last forever and you can get on with your tasks and day
  • Is mental health affected though?
    • Yes and no - if you hate it, the whole season can be overwhelming - but even if you love it - the brain has something called the 'habituation effect' which is that after a while, you 'tune things out' (pardon the pun) and no longer notice persistent irritating stimuli in any environment - we have a built it defense so that irritation can only last so long and we can get on with our day and tasks - we habituate to stimuli around us (whether we want to or not), which renders us desensitized to those stimuli - the desensitization effect.

Some Brain-science of Music and Shopping

During the Holidays:

  • Retailers are advised to play what is ‘festive and familiar’
    • They aim to get people to ‘get into the spirit’ – want them to get nostalgic and conjure up cognitive associations of seasons gone by
      • When they do, they map to many past consumption experiences and an overall feeling of the season
    • All of which typically increases ‘basket size’ (how much they spend per shopping experience)
    • This is often paired with scents (cinnamon, pine), tastes (candy canes, peppermint, taste-test kiosks etc), scenes and sights (e.g. mangers, trees, ornaments, decorations etc.), of the season in order to ignite all of the senses at that subconscious (and conscious) level in order to garner greater time spent in-store and resulting increases in basket sizes.

The Rest of the Year:

  • Anything that is appropriate to the season (e.g. more upbeat for summer; classical in winter etc.)
  • Should be repetitive with a subtle but pleasing pattern to it
  • Should be mostly instrumental (vocals can polarize some consumer segments and distract most)
  • The music shouldn’t interrupt the thought process or decision-making of a consumer
  • Music should ‘blend’ into the background from a style, volume, and tempo perspective, and help create an atmosphere that enhances the sense of place, experience, and ‘being space’ but itself isn’t highly notable or detectable by the senses.

Want more? Have questions? www.drbrynn.com

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