Stop the Music! How Advertising Can Help Stop College Students from Downloading Music Illegally

Brian Sheehan and James Tsao

Syracuse University

James Pokrywczynski

Marquette University

Management slant

  • This was a four-phase study that identified motivations for illegal music downloading among college students over a 2-year period, confirmed them quantitatively, and tested advertising concepts for their ability to significantly change behavior.
  • Three key motivations were identified: economic utility, collection utility, and social utility. Of the three, social utility was a new and powerful insight.
  • Of numerous advertising concepts tested to impact these utilities and change illegal downloading behavior, two showed significant promise:
    • focusing on the risk of catching a virus that could destroy your computer and
    • highlighting that such illegal behavior could impact your ability to get a good job after college because, for example, 86 percent of employers consider illegal downloading a character issue that impacts their decision to hire new employees.
  • The campaign focusing on "Getting a good job" proved highly effective at both increasing the use of legal programs for music downloading and decreasing the use of illegal programs, impacting between 15.3 percent and 19.1 percent of the college population. Changing the behavior of this percentage of students would have a significant positive economic impact on the recording industry, an impact far greater than the cost of advertising on college campuses.
  • The campaign focusing on "Viruses" proved somewhat effective at decreasing the use of illegal programs for 12.8 percent of the college population. This was a solid result, but not nearly as significant as the "Getting a good job" campaign.