Jingle Sells

By The Drum, Administrator

January 31, 2003 | 7 min read

I have a strange memory. I can remember what I had for my tea twelve years ago but I can’t remember whether I locked my door today. Strange, that.

Still, one of my many, many early memories is of sitting in an amber cinema as the light falls. The crackle of the Pearl and Dean fanfare rolls above my head, and means only one thing ... the film’s about to start.

When I hear that music today, not just as a grown-up, but as an adman, I know that Pearl and Dean have never had a directional campaign to promote themselves, and yet, no matter where you are when you hear that music, you’ll think of them.

Such is the subliminal power of the “music bias association device”. Or jingle.

The idea of music rallying the troops is hardly new, as anyone who’s seen active duty, from Culloden to Vietnam, can tell you. At a guess, most of you reading this will not have many first-hand memories of the Second World War. But I’ll bet you can all hum a few bars of “Who do you think you’re kidding, Mr Hitler?”.

Looking at life way back in the 40s and 50s, the system was getting goosed from every angle, and society was getting its feathers ruffled. The dramatic upheavals were the sign of things losing momentum. Britain, for one, rumbled out of the war and was giving a lot of thought to getting things back the way they were. However, just as much thought was put into moving on, and it was expressed through many avenues, one of which was music.

So it definitely was a time of re-invention, and music played its part – from absolutely every nook and cranny. It was also the time of mass audience media moving from radio to television. Jingles were, and still are, a great way to get your product remembered by the listener. It reminds consumers later that they want your goods or service. Sold.

As is the nature of change, the jingle seems to have gone the way of all things and we just don’t seem to hear as many as we used to. There was a time when, before every ITV programme started, the guilty region would stand proud before the audience, presenting its wares with a rousing blast from an orchestra or string section. Why, each station even had its own jingle to introduce the ad jingles!

Little by little, as time rolled on, the jingle fell out of favour and for some reason there was less to find memorable from what was once a rich crop.

Maybe the move to more visually based solutions to get the message across has smothered the need for a traditional jingle. Video and more recently digital animation can transport you whenever and wherever, to sell you whatever. This approach needs to be subtle to be effective, without the in-your-face hard sell. The music is still there for dimension, but it generally steps back and lets the visuals do the talking. But, as is the case with Pearl and Dean memories, the jingle is as ingrained as any selling device could hope to be.

One of the best all-time jingles, according to a recent “Top 100 most memorable adverts” TV poll, was the one for Cadbury’s (yes, Cadbury’s) Smash potato.

Now, as we all know, any weekend in Prague spent collecting footage for a classy little retail number would merit a mid-80s position on that chart, but the Smash jingle was somewhat different.

It took the composer and a staff writer at a music publishing house all of 28 seconds to come up with the concept, write the music and lyrics and play it three or four times – just to make sure it worked. The old gent who was interviewed for the TV programme mused he was still getting paid for half a minute’s work that he did nearly 50 years ago. Bless him.

Perhaps the moral of the story is that jingles are really like musical catchphrases. They have to be of their time and somehow capture the moment if they want to capture our imaginations.

It even came full circle when the jingle for Coca-Cola had to be rewritten because the baying, paying public wanted to play it right up the charts. This is how “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” was born, and even knowing that it stems from blatant commercial hype doesn’t detract from its ability to transport us back to Wonder Years mode. It’s also a tremendous plus when the music behind a jingle gains enough recognition to see the artist benefit from the campaign too. Double sold.

Of course, just as flower power inevitably had to move over for power dressing, the jingle went through a long, cold period of being downmarket. You can blame Levis for this one. Their stunning advertising campaigns of the late 80s and early 90s demanded soundtracks, not jingles.

By juxtaposing elegant film-work against cult-classic songs they re-invented the use of music in advertising, and temporarily re-defined the place of advertising in popular culture. Suddenly, it was all right to be sold to, as long as it was entertaining and clever. And what about the genius that came up with the idea for the Levi’s advert compilation CD ... they were selling us the songs they used to sell us our jeans.

Are you feeling a little dizzy at this point?

Some more than others navigated this move from catchy jingle to campaign theme track more smoothly. Personally, I find it works best when the brand is brave enough to leave the track alone, and let its ethos diffuse an association in consumers’ minds. Where it falls on its face is when embarrassing attempts are made to hi-jack a much-loved song completely and force a brand name somewhere in the chorus, or when the intent of the song itself is let down by the brand. One has to wonder, at times, whether the team at ASDA thought we were really all going to suddenly believe they were perfect.

Today, the Levis trend continues and it’s music performed independently of any watchful ad exec eye that makes its way into the campaigns today. A soundtrack to some of the mini-epics that paint you a thousand-word picture rather than sing you a song. The image sells the product now, but the music has a more lifestyle-aimed approach. If you identify with the music, maybe that particular product is the one for you. It’s a slight hark-back ... if we don’t win them on the ad, we’ll win them on the music. And maybe even music today is another way to see we’ve hit a bit of a creative cul-de-sac. We’re heading back to mixing some of the old stuff a new way.

Which is why, although some might say video killed the radio star and the jingle is dead, in reality it’s more likely to be sleeping. You still get the old stalwarts shining through. Some jingles have blossomed into signature tunes, for instance, Green Giant, whilst others have remixed and gone for the update on the classic such as Coco Pops.

There is now a growing trend for the use of powerful auditory signatures. I’m thinking of the Tesco “plink”, the Comet Sense click, and the Intel bing-bong. They provide signs that this medium is exploring itself a lot further and that our old friend the jingle is poised for a comeback.

So, if you’re thinking of gambling with a jingle in your next campaign, look at it as a marketing exercise-cum-fingerprint on every potential consumer out there. Get it right and they’ll be singing it on the buses, on the terraces, on EastEnders.

Let’s just hope the product it’s singing the praises of is actually good enough to buy!


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