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Many researchers have considered the impact of music in advertising, either from a classical conditioning perspective (e.g., Blair and Shimp, 1992; Gorn, 1982; Kellaris and Cox, 1989; Pitt and Abratt, 1988), or they have examined how sound effects (e.g., Miller and Marks, 1992) or different physical characteristics of the music such as the tempo, pitch, and loudness (e.g., Alpert and Alpert, 1990; Bruner, 1990; Kellaris and Rice, 1993) affect listeners' responses. Little attention has been paid, however, to what functions silence (the absence of music and sound effects) performs in television advertisements. The work that has been done has come as a by-product of the investigation into effects of music on advertising.
For example, Park and Young (1986) examine how the influence of music on brand attitude is moderated by the level of involvement. Their findings suggest that music may be beneficial under low-involvement conditions, but that the absence of music is better when cognitive involvement is high. Related to this, Muehling and Bozman (1990) found that the absence of music, or positive music, resulted in a more persuasive advertisement for a factual narrative (one that could be argued to require high cognitive involvement). However, neutral music was more effective when the narrative was evaluative in nature.
Gorn et al. (1991) also indirectly provide evidence supporting the effectiveness of silence in their study of the impact of music on the persuasiveness of a television commercial for elderly listeners. Although the absence of music did not affect the persuasiveness of the message, it did increase the retention of verbal information contained in the ad.
While these studies that investigate the impact of music do provide some insight into what effects silence might have in advertisements, a more thorough investigation concentrating on silence in particular is needed. The purpose of this paper is twofold: (1) to examine the functions of silence in television advertisements; and (2) to investigate the attitudes of creative directors within advertising agencies toward the use of silence as a creative tool, as well as their perceptions of its effectiveness.
Functions of Silence in Television Advertising
In print advertising, conventional wisdom suggests that white space reduces clutter and hence gains attention (e.g., Moriarty, 1990; Russel and Lane, 1993). It seems reasonable to speculate that silence also may perform this role in broadcast media, separating an advertisement from the "noise" generated by the television program and other advertisements. Additionally, it is argued here that silence may also be used within a television advertisement to cause people to contemplate and/or rehearse information presented and to evoke emotion. (Each of these functions are examined below.)
Using Silence to Generate Attention. The absence of sound (other than the announcer's voice) throughout an advertisement may function to provide a sharp contrast between the advertisement and the program or advertisement that preceded it. This may generate greater attention to the advertisement and, in turn, it may enhance the listeners' retention of the message. The finding of Gorn et al. (1991) that the absence of music results in increased memory for verbal information in an ad generally supports this assertion. Interestingly though, they also report that the condition with music resulted in a significantly higher recall of visual information. It may be the case that the silence in the ad increased the attention to, and consequently involvement with, the ad. In turn, greater focus may have been given to the content of the ad and less to the peripheral cues in the visual component. Alternatively, it could be that the contrast produced by the silence resulted in increased attention to the auditory component only and that this increased attention to the verbal information distracted viewers from the visual information. Regardless of the exact reason, as this strategy requires that the ad contrast with its surroundings, the success of the ad may be dependent, at least in part, on the "noise" content of the program or the ad that precedes it.
In addition to using silence to draw attention to the ad in general, an advertiser may also employ silence to encourage viewers to concentrate on specific pieces of information, either spoken or written on the screen, within an advertisement. That is, an advertiser might wish to make a particular piece of information stand out by having a commercial begin high in noise content and then cut to silence, carrying this …