Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Muzak, Background Music to Life, to Lose Its Name

Jennifer S. Altman for The New York Times
BEN SISARIO/The New York Times

Lorne Abony, the chief executive of Mood Media, which is consolidating its so-called sensory marketing services under a single brand, Mood.

Not that lilting instrumentals or mixes of pop hits are likely to disappear from restaurants, shops and offices. But the Muzak name — long part of the American vernacular, if sometimes as the butt of jokes — will be retired this week as part of a reorganization by its owner, Mood Media.

Mood Media, based in Concord, Ontario, has become a leader in so-called sensory marketing, providing stores and other businesses the sights, sounds and even smells to envelop their customers. In addition to Muzak, which it bought two years ago for $345 million, Mood has divisions for signs, interactive displays and scents, which it says reach 150 million people each day at more than 500,000 locations around the world, from Saks Fifth Avenue to Petco.

On Tuesday, the company will announce that it is consolidating its services under a single brand, Mood, thus eliminating the Muzak name.

“It’s the end of an iconic American brand,” said Lorne Abony, Mood Media’s chairman and chief executive.

The move reflects the growing sophistication of in-store services, as well as the pressures facing physical retailers in the Internet age. At Mood’s interactive kiosks, for example, shoppers can try on clothes virtually, while the company pipes in upbeat songs and scents intended to set a mood or cover up unpleasant odors.

“There’s a huge opportunity and a need for physical retailers to make the experience more interactive as they do battle against online channels,” said Edward S. Williams, a digital entertainment analyst at BMO Capital Markets in New York.

Mr. Abony said that Mood’s background music services, including Muzak and DMX — which it bought last year — generate about 90 percent of the company’s sales. In the third quarter of last year, it had $120 million in revenue and $32 million in earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization.

But the company wants to expand its other services by offering clients a broad menu under one name, particularly in the United States, where the penetration of Mood’s sights-and-scents business has been low compared with the rest of the world.

“We have a team of music gurus, visual specialists, sound and scent-tech experts,” Mr. Abony said. “We develop compelling, consistent experiences that connect our clients with their customers. The new brand signifies the integration of the company.”

As part of Mood’s incorporation of Muzak and DMX, the company has also reduced staff, although it has not said by how much.

Muzak traces its roots to the 1920s, but the brand name appeared in 1934. It evolved from simple background music in hotels and restaurants to a scientifically designed program to increase workers’ productivity and make shoppers more comfortable.

Eventually the name came to be shorthand for any kind of innocuous musical wallpaper, even if in recent years Muzak and its competitors have also developed radiolike playlists of pop hits and oldies.

“Music by Muzak became a pervasive soundtrack, accompanying activities in offices, factories, supermarkets, hotel lobbies and even the Apollo 11 journey to the moon,” said Joseph Lanza, the author of “Elevator Music: A Surreal History of Muzak, Easy-Listening, and Other Moodsong.”

Although Mr. Abony cited the company’s integration plans as the main reason for dropping the Muzak name, he also said that Mood had studied consumers’ opinions about Muzak. Aside from the fact that it was little known outside the United States, he said, the brand had some baggage.

“It is often perceived as an epithet for elevator music,” he said. “Muzak was not the connotation that suggested that we have come a long way.”

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