When Bob Garfield talks about old advertising jingles, it's not long before he breaks into song. "Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener,"...
When Bob Garfield talks about old advertising jingles, it’s not long before he breaks into song. “Oh, I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener,” he sings, not entirely out of tune.
“I remember that stupid jingle,” he says. “But I don’t remember what I had for breakfast, where my car keys are and what my kids’ names are.”
That’s the power of the jingle, says Garfield, the editor-at-large for Advertising Age magazine. Just mention Oscar Mayer and suddenly there’s a relentless tune — at once pleasing and irritating — crossing the lips, if only silently.
Despite that potency, though, ad jingles are on the wane, overtaken by pleasingly familiar commercial standbys like the Stones’ “Start Me Up,” which Microsoft enlisted to sell Windows. Advertisers say they’re totally out, gone the way of Atari 2600s, indoor smoking and Libyan bellicosity.
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Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce
special orders don’t upset us.
Advertisers and pop culture historians blame — or is it credit? — cultural and technological changes for the demise of the jingle, which seems to live on only in the bowels of local advertising for bedding warehouses and car dealerships.
A jingle campaign today would be expensive and high risk because jingles require head-banging repetition, says Larry Londre, a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication. In the past, national advertisers could guarantee jingle saturation by buying time on the big three TV networks, whereas now they would have to include technology’s new media platforms: cable, the Internet, satellite radio.
“You need the old media environment to make it work,” Garfield says.
The best part of waking up
is Folgers in your cup!
To replace jingles, advertisers have discovered an emotional shortcut, a pop song that arouses desired feelings and associations with the product.
“A jingle has to insinuate itself into your consciousness, whereas a song from your childhood is already there,” says Carl Goodman, deputy director of the Museum of the Moving Image in New York and a former jingle writer.
So rather than pounding away with a jingle to make Cadillac seem fresh and hip and cool, the company signs up Led Zeppelin, a band once known for its Caligulan decadence, to associate the aging brand with youth rebellion.
Although using commercial music can cost from $100,000 to several million, the payoff can be immediate, says Rob Schwartz, executive creative director of TBWA/Chiat/Day. He prefers to think of his commercial choices, such as Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out” for the Sony Playstation, as a modern jingle rather than a musical sellout.
Although not written for the product, many consumers often first heard the song while watching TV and will now think of the Playstation when they hear the song. Musicians are eager to play along because the phenomenon can often launch them, as with Moby’s heavily licensed, breakout album “Play” and its song “Find My Baby,” featured in an American Express ad.
And like a good neighbor,
State Farm is there.
Schwartz is blunt about the jingle’s cultural ignominy: “It’s sort of uncool to have a jingle.” Today’s consumers — especially in the coveted 18-34 demographic — didn’t grow up with ’40s and ’50s crooners, who were the artistic ancestors of jingle writers, he says. In other words, Bing Crosby and Mel Torme sound foreign, and so do the jingles they inspired later on.
The jingle, however, may be poised for a comeback, say advertisers and pop-culture watchers. Why? Well, for one thing, no one can deny its power.
Plop plop, fizz fizz —
oh, what a relief it is!
One need only read a 1997 story with the headline “U.S. Students Lead World In TV Jingle Recall,” which notes that “90 percent of American 7-year-olds, for example, knew that Gillette is the best a man can get, and that the Anheuser-Busch corporation is proud to be your Bud.” The story appeared in the satirical paper The Onion — but you believed the statistic, didn’t you?
For a time before the mid-1990s, everyone in America walked around with a whole set of tunes in their heads about everything from Doublemint gum to Band-Aids to Lowenbrau. Jingles even contributed to a few musical careers, notably that of Barry Manilow, who wrote or performed jingles for products such as State Farm, McDonald’s and Dr. Pepper.
He’s a Pepper. She’s a Pepper. We’re a Pepper.
Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper, too?
“The jingle was a musical form exclusively designed to get into the hardwiring of our brain and bounce around forever,” says Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University. He calls jingles, “love songs to the product.”
Garfield, of Ad Age, disagrees about jingles conveying anything like love — but not about a jingle’s effect.
“It’s an auger bit into the brain of the consumer. They drill you with it until you memorize it and internalize it.” Again, he breaks into song, “800 … 325 … 3535,” an old jingle for Sheraton hotels.
You’re not fully clean
unless you’re Zestfully clean!
The experts all agree that despite their high cost and risk, jingles offer potential for great reward, which is exactly what could tempt an advertiser to bring one back. In fact, Coca-Cola recently updated its paean to idealized Coke buying: “I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony … “
No doubt, says Schwartz, the creative director at Chiat/Day Sometime soon, some advertiser will resurrect the jingle. They’ll probably do it ironically, using a jingle to sell while poking fun at jingles, at the product, and the consumers who would even consider buying a product advertised with a campy jingle.