Thursday, March 27, 2008

Sticky Commercial Jingles You Can't Get Out of Your Head

Yesterday's post got me thinking about commercial songs. For a laugh line, I threw in a reference to Hasbro's "My Buddy" jingle. I figured the song's ubiquity, particularly among people my age, would help make my point that marketing to our age group through nostalgia works. (and if you don't know the song, here it is along with the follow-up Kid Sister). What I didn't figure was that so many of you would curse my name for bringing that song back into your head.

Since one of my abiding research interests happens to be the use of music with moving images, it interested me how much power these short songs have. Repetition of them at an early age accounts for some of their staying power, but there are many commercial songs that get just as stuck in your head that were originally aimed at all ages and even a few aimed at adults. So I decided to explore a few that stood out to me as particularly sticky. Read what follows at your own risk.

Meow Mix

This is a perfect example of a sticky commercial jingle that doesn't work. You are supposed to pay attention to all the wonderful things that are in Meow Mix for your cat, but you end up staring transfixed at the weirdly moving cat's mouth and hearing "Meow, meow, meow, meow" over and over in your head. Afterwards, as though coming out of a trance, you have the song stuck in your head, but you aren't sure what exact brand of catfood just tried to lodge itself in your brain. Still, the stepwise motion of the melody that is simply sequenced can conceivably go on forever, which is perhaps why it does in your mind. We are used to filling in lost information in songs, and so our brain continues the sequencing up and down ad nauseum, making this a musically successful jingle, though not a commercially successful one.


This will always be one of the best commercial jingles both for stickiness and for commercial success. Why? Because the jingle actually teaches young children how to spell the name of the product. That way, when Mom is in the store buying lunch meat, the kid can spell out exactly what they want, and even if they are young and unable to read like Sam, they can recognize a string of a few letters and make sure you are getting the right product. The devious brilliance of this commercial jingle (along with the Oscar Meyer Weiner song) is probably why it has aired almost continuously for over 30 years. And, like the "Meow mix" song, the melody is nothing but a sequence, only this time of rising thirds instead of a scalar passage.


The completely sung commercial is rare, but can work wonders in embedding a product in the mind of consumers. I chose this one both for it being completely sung and for being one of the rare jingles that wasn't aimed at children at all. Notice how well the music and visuals correlate. The opening shots are in partial darkness and the vocal line is basically a monotone. But as activity in the visuals begin, activity in the voice part begins as well. What also interests me is how the shots of coffee are short - the camera cuts quickly to sustained takes on people's faces. The commercial wants to be sure you notice that this is about people enjoying coffee, not about coffee itself. The music mirrors this - it is a more complete song, something more human than a simple jingle (Although the last line certainly is a jingle. Notice how drastically the vocal line shifts at the end; it is tacked on to the end to stick in your head). In other words, this is all about you, about something you enjoy. We aren't trying to sell you anything. And if you like this feeling, buy our coffee.

Ok, one last one:

This commercial song remains one of the most effective. Notice how it starts: "I'd like to buy the world a home." No mention of coke even appears in the song until halfway through the commercial. Instead, you see all these fresh-faced people of every race singing and enjoying themselves while holding a coke, logo-side out. Notice how the music performs the visuals. At first, you have only one person, then three, but they are singing the same line. Then, as they begin to "sing in harmony," the music begins to perform in harmony. Notice too that the "harmony" section is the first time an African-American is shown onscreen, a not-too-subtle message in 1970 when the song was written.

This is one of those few commercial songs that broke through into popular song; many people called into radio stations requesting they play the Coke song. It was so successful that Coke tried to replicated the success in the early 90s with the Always Coca-Cola campaign. But, as the makers of Coke found out with New Coke in the mid-1980s, there's no beating the real thing.

After reading through my little list, I'm curious for your own opinions of Sticky Commercial Jingles. Suggest enough with a strong enough case and I'll probably do an additional post in the future.


Ryan said...

There are some fine jingles on the market in our area right now. Often stuck in my head are the Weightloss Surgical Center's "less of you, more of life" jingle, the hemorrhoid treatment "stop suffering in silence" jingle, and the ever popular Used Tire City rap!

patterns of ink said...

I happened upon your post today through a google seach for jingles. I did not see your post until Saturday, but I wrote Friday about the same subject with a slightly different perspective.
I enjoyed reading here and will come back. I hope you don't mind that I went back to my post and added a link to this one... along with some other links that I think you'll find of interest.
As a fan of commercials, you'll also get a kick out of the use of two ad themes in the background of the last few minutes of the post about out-takes at

Great post. I'll be back.