Do you want to buy the world a Coke? Does your bologna have a first name? Is Folger’s in your cup the best part of waking up?
There’s something about a jingle that just sticks in your mind. Better yet, if it’s the product that sticks in your mind. Jingles are easy to remember because they are short, use as much repetition as possible, and the more it rhymes, the better – sort of like a nursery rhyme. The first known singing radio advertisement came from General Mills for Wheaties breakfast cereal. The jingle, “Have You Tried Wheaties”, was first performed Christmas Eve 1926 by a barbershop quartet later dubbed the Wheaties Quartet. According to the General Mills’ website, General Mills execs were about to discontinue the product when they noticed that sales were better in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area – the only place the jingle was regularly broadcast. Based on this finding, GM launched a national campaign using the jingle, and sales soared. For Wheaties, as they say, the rest is history.
Jingles were also used to educate people about new products. In 1944, the introduction of bananas to the American market was eased by the Chiquita Banana jingle. The catchy tune taught Americans how to store and eat the exotic fruit. (Don’t refrigerate! Brown spots are good!) In fact, at its most popular, the jingle played on average 376 times per day on the radio.
While jingles were invented for radio, the penetration of television in the 1950s contributed to the popularity of these singing ads. Alas, jingles do have a downside: the public can grow to hate them because you just can’t get them out of your head. And, as with most other stimuli, the more you experience them, the less of a motivational effect they have on you. While they might be familiar, they might not get you to buy.
Fast forward to 2016, and you don’t hear many jingles. Times have changed, and it takes different approaches to get us to buy. As Harrison Barnes wrote in Gig.com, “This kind of jingle may have been desirable in the 60s, but … we need more to get us interested.” And Roger Enrico, former PepsiCo CEO said, “Instead of extolling the virtues of the product, the idea was to celebrate the lifestyle of the consumers of the product.” According to Barnes, it isn’t about the product anymore; it’s about who is using the product. Most humans have a deep emotional connection to music, so it was inevitable that advertisers would latch onto the emotional and cultural experience of popular music to connect their brands to the purchaser.
Pop culture, technology, and the evolution of music industry economics also had a hand in the demise of jingles. By the early 70s, jingles were already beginning to sound “old-fashioned” to the younger generation who deemed them uncool and even obnoxious. Advertisers thus began to move away from jingles and towards the use of pop songs (or songs that sounded like pop songs) to support their products. Early on, artists who allowed their songs to be used for such commercial purposes were viewed by some as “selling out”. However, due in large part to the new economy of the music business (streaming music vs. album sales), the trend grew to be widespread and quite common among popular artists. The benefits of connecting their music with brands worked both ways.
In fact, some credit the 1984 Pepsi campaign featuring Michael Jackson as marking the beginning of the end for jingles. In 1998, research conducted by the American Association of Advertising Agencies identified 153 jingles in 1,279 national 30-second television ads. By 2011, the number was down to only eight. Why write a jingle when the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or other musicians could make those emotional connections for you?
There are still some brands that hold onto their iconic jingles, including Kit Kat’s famous “gimme a break” (in use since 1986), State Farm’s “like a good neighbor” (written by Barry Manilow in 1971), and Band Aid’s “stuck on me” (also by Manilow and in use nearly 50 years). But you currently hear far, far fewer of them in favor of popular songs.
So, is Nationwide still on your side? Do you love New York? Are you a Toys ‘R’ Us kid?
We’re sorry. Now, you won’t be able to stop singing your favorite jingle, past or present. It will run through your mind endlessly.
And isn’t that the point?