You Deserve a Break Today. Use a Jingle.

February 6, 2012

By Rick Knecht

In honor of the recent Super Bowl, probably the only broadcast of which anyone says proudly "I only watch for the ads," I thought I'd say a few words in defense of the seemingly lost art of jingles.

A jingle is a short song which is part of (or sometimes the entirety of) an ad. It often contains the brand's tagline, slogan, or phrasemark. Jingles promote retention. They're meant to be catchy and memorable. A good jingle will stay with you for days or weeks. A really good jingle can be recalled for years.

Think I'm kidding? I can sing an entire Toys 'R' Us 15-second spot from 30 years ago. I can also sing the entire 30-second spot from their local competitor, Lionel Kiddie City, and they've been out of business for almost 20 years. 

Lean over and start singing to your co-worker, "My baloney has a first name..." and I bet more than half will sing back, "It's O-S-C-A-R!" Why are we stuck on Band-Aids? "'Cause Band-Aids stick on me!" Plop, plop, fizz, fizz... yep, you know the next line. Gotta get me some Kibbles-N-Bits? Or the indelible bouncing ball timing "Meow meow meow meow meow" of Ralston Purina's Meow Mix?

Let's not forget one of the best-known jingles of all: "I'd like to buy the world a Coke." The ad became so popular that the New Seekers actually reconvened in a studio and recorded it as a full-length song, which became a hit. (A later update of the ad for Super Bowl XXIV in 1990, starting with the original singers and bringing in their kids, wasn't as successful.)

And lest you think jingles only happen on TV, consider the still-running radio ads for Melrose Diner Restaurant in Philadelphia. I don't even know where the Melrose is on a map, and I've never eaten there, but I do know that "Everybody who knows... goes... to Melrose!"

Jingles have undeniable power. They last. They hang around long after the campaign is over, happily keeping your brand in the minds (and on the lips) of your customers without you having to lift a finger or spend a cent. 

So where are the jingles today?

Consider the advertising from the Super Bowls of the last five years. Sure, you can name some of the spots, for creativity or controversy. Could you sing any of them?

A jingle is just a short song about a brand, with a strong hook. The hook gets stuck in your head and gets repeated. Encourage that by heavy rotation, and you have the perfect recipe for brand retention. Why aren't more brands creating and using jingles?

Marketers are failing to tap the tremendous potential of the zeitgeist (today we call it "going viral") if we overlook something as simple as a jingle to get our customers' attention. 

Music helps us remember. That's why so many bits on "Sesame Street" feature singing: to help children remember the alphabet, numbers, street signs, measurements, and so on. It was the genesis of "Schoolhouse Rock," the three-minute interstitials which ran on ABC between Saturday morning cartoons, teaching an entire generation about grammar, multiplication, history, science, finance, and how a bill becomes a law. ("I'm just a bill, oh yes I'm only a bill...") 

Sure, a good slogan will become part of the collective consciousness: "Don't leave home without it" and "Where's the beef?" are still associated with American Express and Wendy's, decades after the companies have moved on to other taglines. But when you think about GE's "We bring good things to life," don't you find yourself singing it rather than just reciting it? When you open with "Like a good neighbor," isn't the immediate response to sing "State Farm is there"? 

A solid catchphrase is lightning in a bottle. Set it to good music, and broadcast the hell out of it, and now you have a power station. 

Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too?


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