Assuming that not all background music in advertising function as effective retrieval cues for the advertised messages, this study proposes that we should be able to distinguish the retrieval cue effect of music from the simple ad exposure effect. This study tries to identify which specific characteristics of music are related to the retrieval cue effect. Our experiment focuses on congruency and familiarity of music as key characteristics of music which affect the effectiveness of the music’s role as a retrieval cue for the advertised messages.
We used four groups of subjects to test the retrieval cue effect of the background music. Each group was exposed to one of the four different types of background music and was again sub-divided into an experimental and a control group (i.e., a total of eight independent sub-groups were included in the experiment.) The first two sub-groups were exposed to the experimental advertisement with the background music of high congruency and high familiarity. After the ad exposure, the background music was provided as a retrieval cue to only one of the two sub-groups. Comparison of the memory performance between the two sub-groups will reveal the net retrieval cue effect of the music of high congruency and high familiarity. Similarly, another two sub-groups watched the same ad but with the background music of high congruency and low familiarity. Also the same ad but with the music of low congruency/ high familiarity was shown to another two sub-groups and that of low congruency and low familiarity music was to another two. Among the two sub-groups with the same music, only one group had the music cue at the memory tasks. One hundred and seventy four undergraduate students at the college of one of authors in Asia participated in the study. Their ages ranged from 18 to 24 with a median of 20. The sample was composed of 51.7 percent male subjects. They were randomly assigned to each of the eight sub-group.
The results show that the music highly congruent with the advertised message facilitates the message retrieval, while the low congruency music cue does not. It was also found that the low familiarity music cue improves memory performance only when the music is perceived as congruent with the advertised message.
From a theoretical and practical perspective, this study provides boundary conditions for effective retrieval and suggests that the congruent music specifically created for the ad is a more effective retrieval cue than other types of music cues.

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