If advertising jingles work so damn well, how come we never hear them anymore?

I'd like to teach...(you know the rest)

Back in my early teens I lived in Montevideo, Uruguay. I was a puny pre-pubescent kid that was years away from needing to shave…but I nevertheless knew about a Razor/Shaving Machine store downtown, called “La Casa de la Afeitadora”. I even knew its exact street address: Yi 1436. Why would I know this? And why the hell did I remember it 27 years later, when I can barely remember the address of my current home?

It’s because the radio ads for this store ended with a hypnotic repetition of the address “Yi 1436, Yi 1436, Yi 1436, Yi 1436…”. The jingle burrowed itself into my brain, never to check out. And this is just one of many jingles lodged in my brain. (sadly, I couldn’t find it on the web to share with you, or you would be hooked too, I promise!)

I checked in with some colleagues throughout the world, and I’m definitely not the only one. It seems that musical jingles, perhaps even more so than actual TV advertisements, have a universal, uncanny ability to take root in our memories.

Whether you grew up in Argentina, or Turkey, or Mexico, or Venezuela, or the UK, or Brazil, or India, or Russia, most everyone can dig back years and even decades with ease to remember brands that, in many cases, are no longer even around. If you were a brand manager, doesn’t this type of brand recall sound like nirvana? Check out some examples below (warning: extreme cheesy-ness ahead!…but guess what, it all came out a long time ago and it’s still remembered. How many Cannes Golden Lions winners do you remember from the past 10 years? That’s what I thought.)

  1. Argentina La Serenisima yogurt – It feeds your will to live!
  2. Argentina Coke – First love. Has a nice 80s synth groove!
  3. Argentina Bananita Dolca – Oh, I SO remember this banana dressed in chocolate.
  4. Brazil Bala de leite (candy) – Very sweet. Literally.
  5. Brazil Varig airline – I remember this one like it was yesterday.
  6. Brazil Guarana (soft drink) – this one is catchy in an oh-so-80s way!
  7. India Piyo milk – Doodh doodh = milk milk. Simple, and catchy!
  8. India Nerolac paints – I thought they were going to break out into dance, but no.
  9. India AMUL dairy company – a big jingle for a big budget production
  10. Mexico Vitacilina ointment – At home and at the office, always have Vitacilina!
  11. Mexico Mentos – This English classic was so good they just ran with it!
  12. Russia – Err…this is what my colleague wrote back; “”Unfortunately, living and growing up in former USSR prevented us from having such thing as advertising:) so no jingles from ads from me!”
  13. Turkey Eti biscuit – The budget was probably not in the millions…but that’s why they make the jingle catchy!
  14. Turkey Ulker biscuit – Nothing says Turkish boy scout camping, like Ulker biscuits
  15. Turkey Tat Ketchup – Catchy song! (mind you we’re talking about the 80s)
  16. UK Heinz baked beans. “English accent” and “beans! beans! beans!”. Need I say more?
  17. UK R White’s Lemonade – Amazing recall still among those of the slightly graying demographic
  18. UK Midland Bank – An animated classic targeted at…who exactly?
  19. Venezuela Oreo Cookies – the best cream, the best chocolate, together they’re the best!

So what’s the deal? I mean, in today’s advertising world, radio or TV jingles are considered (take your pick): old-fashioned, cheesy, cheap sounding, tacky, unsophisticated, outdated…the list goes on and on. Take this year’s Cannes awards: there were 2 Grand Prix and 23 Gold Lions awarded in the Film and Radio categories. Plenty of great uses for music, but guess how many of the 25 Lions featured any semblance of a jingle? A big fat zero. (Even in radio!)

So here’s what bugs me: I’m convinced that JINGLES WORK, dammit! They sure don’t feel contemporary, but they still do feel effective. And they are nowhere to be seen in today’s advertising environment. Are we sure we can afford to just leave this tool out of the creative repertoire?

It didn’t always use to be this way, obviously. I reached out to a colleague that was working in the business when jingles were still “in”. Chris Walker is a Creative Director at the London office of Draftfcb, and he shared the following anecdote:

“My first job was at an agency called Allen, Brady and Marsh. At the time it was UK’s number 2. (by billings not awards!). It was known as the ultimate jingle agency.

The Creative director, Rod Allen, had a piano in his office. When a big brief or pitch came in, he’d tuck himself away. Then we’d hear his tinkling ivories, and shortly after, he’d appear excitedly with a typed jingle. Then some poor senior art-director would get handed the sheet and asked to ‘do the pictures’.

To be fair, many people of my age could sing about 10 of his jingles today if prompted. And that was 20 years ago. We all say they’re naff, but jingles are extraordinarily memorable and branded. Staying in the consumers mind for decades. (“I’d like to buy the world a Coke…” etc.).”

Dennis Osakada, International Creative Director at Draftfcb Chicago, confirms that jingles were very much front and center:

“Back in the day, jingles were very much a part of the creative repertoire. There were many creatives who incorporated them as part of their creative “style”. For many packaged goods clients, it was expected that in a creative presentation there would be at least one route incorporating a jingle – it was part of the normal range that a good agency would bring to the table, because the feeling was that a jingle gave you a leg up on recall, among other things.”

I began to understand that, like many aspects of life, creativity is affected by cyclical “fashions”, or trends. Jingles go out, raunchy humor goes in. Raunchy humor goes out, animation goes in. Animation goes out, Royal Tennenbaums aesthetic goes in, etc.

There was a long, long time during which jingles were in fashion. And then the winds of creativity began to change, and jingles started to recede as surely as acid washed jeans. From being one of the go-to tools for a creative, it became the old screwdriver buried deep at the bottom of the toolbox. Creatives started to branch out into other “recall hooks”. ECDs started to look unkindly upon ideas that relied on jingles (and, importantly, upon the creatives who brought them to the table). And then we get to today, when young art directors and copywriters probably think of jingles in the same way the think of Mad Men: an interesting and quaint look back, but nothing to do with today’s conception of creativity.

And here I go back to the original headache: it may not have anything to do with today’s conception of creativity…but I propose that today’s consumer is just as receptive to jingles as always – and isn’t it they who we are trying to reach and influence? If the purpose of advertising is to generate awareness, recall, and ultimately sales for our brands…and if jingles can work to accomplish this – should we not be more resistant to discarding them?

I say, bring back the jingle!

Mind you, this doesn’t mean we step back into a time machine, because our world has moved on from the 70’s. I’m probably talking about an evolved version of the jingle, enhanced by what we know today about advertising and consumers: make the jingle authentic, make it involving, make it contemporary, make it short enough for our mini-attention span…but keep the subliminal stickiness and brand linkage!

The outcome may still not be “pretty”, but if it aids recall and leads to sales, well that’s the ultimate reward, isn’t it? I mean, if I’m ever in Montevideo I know exactly where to go for my shaving needs. Twenty-seven years after the airing of the ad, that’s pretty damn impressive.

Thank you for reading!


PS – So, what about you? Do you agree that jingles deserve a space in the creative’s repertoire, or are they lost for good? What old jingle popped into your mind as you were reading this post? I’d love to know, please post it in the comments section.

PPS – A HUGE thanks to those that contributed content for this story: R Molins, M Shandley, M Mainetti, G Hammes, K Murphy, R Salas, C Castro, C Walker, D Lesaca, S Nichani, C Seren, L Hodgson, N Alford, L Tregub, C Mattos, M Gutierrez, and R Caso. I owe you all a pint!

7 thoughts on “If advertising jingles work so damn well, how come we never hear them anymore?

  1. Totally agree with you on this, Martin! My husband attended a Pearl Jam concert some years back where the entire stadium sang the Empire Carpet jingle along with Eddie Vedder. Personally I still sing the old Miller beer jingle around the house (when it’s time to relax, one beer stands clear…if you’ve got the time, we’ve got the beer…Miller beer!). And there was an entire Seinfeld episode around George’s last name being just as catchy as the very short “by Mennen!” jingle (Co-stanza!). It’s time to bring the jingle back…it’s a recall machine!

    • Hi, Anonymous Kim!

      It never occurred to me all these years that we were testing ads on ASI (and now it’s too late!), but I’d love to see the effect on recall of an ad paired up against a similar ad, but with a strong jingle. I too agree that it should be a “recall machine”

      BTW, the Seinfeld reference made me laugh, have to check that one out again.

      Thanks for reading:)

    • Hi Tania!
      Thanks for your link. I agree, it’s a great jingle because it taps into a very universal and powerful insight (we all want to come back home from Christmas). It’s really interesting to see the same jingle carrying 4 different commercials along the different decades. Paints a little bit of a history of Spain!

      Thanks for reading!

  2. Pingback: Ad of the Day – May 23 (Santiago) | adboardingpass

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