LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- The death of the jingle has been greatly exaggerated. But for awhile, it was understandable if you needed to check its pulse.
In the 2000s, the trend of licensing pop songs from the '60s, '70s and '80s in lieu of creating an original 30-second branded melody picked up a lot of momentum. From Led Zeppelin and Lou Reed to Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney, no major artist was above lending his music to sell cars, watches, lingerie or coffee. Meanwhile, a whole crop of indie bands relied on the likes of Apple, Converse and Bud Light to help launch singles and create new revenue streams in lieu of dwindling album sales.
But today? Marketers want original music for their messages.
That's one reason brands and ad agencies are rediscovering, and in many cases relaunching, the art of the jingle -- from State Farm's recent Nintendo-fied 8-bit remake of its classic "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there" to Experian's quest to find a new band to sing its "Free Credit Score" song to McDonald's oft-updated takes on its "I'm Lovin' It" tagline.
It's also why original pop songs that double as ads are on the rise, whether it's Converse pairing hip-hop up-and-comer Kid Cudi with members of indie-rock bands Vampire Weekend and Best Coast for an original single,"Summertime"; online-dating site Zoosk recruiting rappers Flo Rida and T-Pain for the fully branded "Zoosk Girl"; or Gatorade tapping hip-hop producer David Banner to pen the rockabilly tune for its current "Revolution" campaign. And Tommy Hilfiger is about to launch Loud, its first major fragrance campaign in years, with an original song by British dance-pop band the Ting Tings written specifically for the ad.
In fact, music was the only production category that saw an increase in budget last year, according to a 2010 study from the 4A's; the Association of Music Producers (AMP) reported 78% of its members' income came from original music vs. 22% from licensed music and arrangements in a spring 2010 survey.
"It seems like the cycle is ebbing slightly, and it may be less popular to align yourself with a major superstar," said Elizabeth Myers, president of AMP and co-founder of Trivers Myers Music. She suggests it could be a reflection of the economic mood -- original music feels more simple and real. And, she said, "in America, the clients like to own that identity that comes with original music."
Jack Livesey, co-founder of bicoastal music house Duotone, agrees that original music conveys more honesty. "Whether consciously or not, to viewers [licensing music] feels a little manipulative, like you're just kind of renting something to wow me," he said.
A growing number of advertisers are reinvesting in and reinventing their own jingles for a new generation. Jason Peterson, executive creative director for Interpublic's Translation, which has worked with McDonald's and State Farm, said brands are starting to realize the invaluable equity that comes with a recognizable jingle.
"Taking something new and inherent to their brand, which has a deep sort of meaning, and making it relevant and interesting and bringing that into popular culture is a big task in itself," he said.
But to many agency execs, such as McCann's Mike Boris, senior VP-executive music producer, it doesn't matter whether the music is written specifically for the campaign or if it's an existing song that hasn't received national exposure -- as long as it's a good creative fit, artists will lend their music and occasionally their likeness to an ad campaign.
"Years ago it was selling out -- now we call it selling in," Mr. Boris said. The pitch? A major spot can get you the kind of play national radio doesn't anymore.
Beginning in 2008, major ad agencies and brands have been going to greater lengths to associate themselves with original music and artist development. Havas' Euro RSCG acquired indie music label The:Hours in a bid to establish credible relationships between brands and artists. Also that year, PepsiCo's Mtn Dew formed Green Label Sound, an imprint that released new songs from indie bands such as Matt & Kim and The Cool Kids.
And TBWA/Chiat/Day is organizing new-music showcases this month in markets such as Los Angeles to get buzz bands in front of creative directors and clients. It also comes down to economics. Licensing songs from lesser-known or new bands can range from $10,000 to $75,000, depending on whether the ad airs only on TV or online, while the price tag for better-known artists comes in at $200,000 to $300,000. Then there are mega-artists like Led Zeppelin, Madonna and the Rolling Stones, who often cost upward of $1 million for one song.
Of course, more direct relationships between agencies, brands and artists means less opportunities for the dedicated jingle houses and music-production companies to book traditional ad gigs, so many of them are diversifying their resumes.
In addition to recording songs for spots for marketers including Palm, Pacifico Beer and Hewlett-Packard, Black Iris, an indie-music house based in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, recently completed the score for a video game and also has a fledgling singles label that just signed a distribution deal to release 7-inch vinyl records and digital downloads with Sony's RED Music.
Similarly, Duotone has been adding original scores for indie films ("New York, I Love You") and cable TV shows (AMC's "Rubicon," History's "Swamp People") to its client list next to original jingles for Revlon, Martini & Rossi, Maxwell House International and Verizon Wireless, the latter of which famously repurposed the Big Red jingle this spring to promote its own red-colored 3G coverage.
The line between commercial content and art continues to blur. Alexandre Sap, CEO of Euro's The:Hours, said the turning point for him was when Peter Gabriel asked to cover Lou Reed's "The Power of the Heart," a song the onetime Velvet Underground frontman wrote for Cartier's Love Collection.
"It's all about quality. It's about the fight between music-production companies making music just for advertising or having clients come into the record company with the right connections," he said.