Specific musical pieces may activate superordinate knowledge structures4, suggesting how in-store music could influence product choice. For example, stereotypical French music should activate superordinate knowledge structures concerning France, so priming the selection of products such as French wines. Similarly, stereotypical German music should activate related knowledge and prime the selection of products such as German wines.

To test this, four French and four German wines were displayed in a supermarket drinks section. The wines were matched between the countries for their price and dryness or sweetness. Each of the four shelves contained one French and one German wine and appropriate national flags. The position of the wines on the shelves was changed halfway through the two-week testing period. French accordion and German Bierkeller pieces were played on alternate days from a tape deck situated on the top shelf. Shoppers buying wines from the display were asked to complete a questionnaire by two experimenters posing as customers, with 44 shoppers (54%) consenting and the rest typically offering constraints on available time as a reason for declining.

French wine outsold German wine when French music was played, whereas German wine outsold French wine when German music was played (PTable 1). Questionnaire responses indicated that the French music made respondents think of France and the German music made them think of Germany (PP>0.05), and only six respondents answered “yes” to the question, “Did the type of music playing influence your choice of wine?”.

Table 1 Summary of results by type of music

Customers did not seem aware of the effect that music had on their selections. Given recent controversy over subliminal perception5 it would be interesting to discover whether they were really as unaware of the effects of muscal ‘fit’ as their questionnaire responses suggested. Future research could investigate the effects of music relative to silence, or relative to the effects of music from a country that does not produce wine; the mediating effect of individual differences6; and whether musical ‘fit’ has more influence on product choice when customers are undecided7.