Where Did All the Jingles Go?

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When I first got into this business over 20 years ago, I worked for a guy who was one of the best jingle writers around. He was a brilliant musician and lyricist who looked at everything with an eye towards music. He was always cooking up one ditty after another, which seemed to play a role in successfully moving his clients' business ahead. He had written songs like "Mother Country" for United Airlines and "It's a Good Time for the Great Taste of McDonald's" for the burger chain.

So I grew up in this business thinking this was how everything worked. You write your own original jingle, sell it to a client, then you'd get to listen to it on the radio, and even hear people humming it in public washrooms. That's kind of how it worked for me, and probably still does for some advertisers.

These days, admittedly, original jingles are less prevalent. But because there are far fewer of them, the good ones are often quite memorable. The musical ideas that worked hardest were the ones that actually conveyed a unique campaign idea in an emotionally involving way. "Isn't it Cool in Pink" for Cherry 7UP really sliced through the clutter for its time; add black and white film colorized with pink, and we contributed to one of the most successful new product brands of the '80s.

More recently, "Remember the Magic," for Disney World's 25th Anniversary, helped shape a message that would lead to record attendance at Walt Disney World. Disney was also smart enough to realize the power of not only using the music in ads, but also releasing it on a CD, putting it into a park parade, and featuring it in a music box.

Although original music may not be as prevalent, you'll still find advertisers who want to invest the big bucks in existing songs to get instant attention. The Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" for Microsoft was brilliant. The Cyndi Lauper hit "Girls Just Want To Have Fun" for AT&T was delightful. Burger King did quite well for many years, cutting pictures of their food to old music scores. Levi's used Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" brilliantly in a commercial that took place in a hospital emergency room. These pieces of music did have the power to help these commercials stick in our heads.

Now, even though I think we'll always find advertisers buying music, the prices have skyrocketed and many clients are finding it harder and harder to cough up the bucks. The truth is, in most cases, the role of music in advertising has changed. Music has become an enhancer, something that drives the mood, tone and emotion of the idea rather than being the idea itself. As in any good movie, scoring is key in dramatizing an idea. It can make the viewer feel tender, vulnerable, disoriented or frivolous. It can help reduce us to laughter or tears. It can also put our mind smack-dab in the middle of another era.

I believe music is an underused and powerful tool that can turn an ordinary piece of film into something you want to watch over and over again. It can also turn an extraordinary piece of film into a true masterpiece by adding so much to the storytelling.

Even as an enhancer, music adds texture and meaning. It sets the stage. It can signal nostalgia or evoke tension, even fear. And music can plant its hooks so deep in your head you can't erase it. Try as you might, it keeps playing over and over again. Music can even help make you hip and cool again as the in the case of the Gap, and yes, it can actually cut right to the heart.

I recently recorded a piece I wrote for a Hallmark Mother's Day spot with Lisa Loeb. She was incredible at creating a mood that was able to captivate our female target audience. The response we've gotten from this Hall of Fame spot that ran once was unbelievable. That's the magic of music, and it still lives, even though how we use it may have changed dramatically; even though, as my old boss would say, "the good old days are gone, a catchy jingle just doesn't sell like it used to."

Music still plays a major role in creating emotion in advertising, just as music creates emotion in life. The right tune is imperative. You wouldn't play "Wipeout" when proposing to your girlfriend. It would kill the mood. And if we really want to cut through the clutter, we need to keep the same thing in mind when crafting great ads.

Cheryl Berman is chairman and chief creative officer of Leo Burnett USA. She has written commercials music for McDonald's, Walt Disney, Kraft, Hallmark and others.

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