Once upon a time, we lived in a golden age of ad jingles. To wit: The mere mention of some of the brands behind them – like, say, Mentos, Kit Kat, Folgers or Oscar Mayer – is likely enough to get one of their ditties stuck in your head for the rest of the day.
Mr. Clean recently brought back its iconic jingle to appeal to a new generation of consumers.
But jingles are a tactic we don’t see as often in mainstream advertising overall. With some notable exceptions like Nationwide and McDonald’s, it seems new jingles are found mostly on daytime or late-night TV and come from smaller brands like J.G. Wentworth, Kars4Kids, and FarmersOnly.com.
Why Enthusiasm Waned
And this is in part because times — and media consumption habits — have changed.
“Today’s consumers are no longer couch potatoes who spend the majority of their lives in front of TV screens. They’re mostly on mobile devices, mostly on the move, and always trying to get things done: uploading statuses to Facebook, searching for directions, reading articles, sharing photos [and] rating restaurants,” said Joe McCambley, senior vice president of content marketing at “modern” agency Pop. “It’s an on-demand world where consumers choose to opt out of advertising either by skipping pre-roll video ads after three seconds, or blocking ads altogether via ad blockers. Where TV provided a captive audience and lent itself to jingles, mobile consumers refuse to be sold [to] and demand to be helped.”
But it’s also because, by association, consumer attention spans are more limited.
“I’m not sure our visual, thumb-scrolling, auto-muted culture is set up to appreciate such brand communication,” said Mark Mulhern, president of the East region at digital marketing agency iCrossing. “But that hasn’t stopped the likes of Old Spice from introducing [its] own whistle in recent years – something they continue to embrace because it’s working for them and their audience.”
Further, a catchy tune was a clever device when marketing channels were more limited, noted Mark Young, CEO of advertising agency Jekyll and Hyde Advertising.
“You could run a significant amount of media on the few TV or radio networks that existed and within a reasonable time own a jingle that people could remember,” he added. “Today we have hundreds of TV networks, thousands of radio options, millions of podcasts and even more websites to visit. Now compound this with social media and you have something akin to Digital ADD happening.”
What’s more, per Young, the average consumer receives 5000 to 20,000 brand messages a day and it’s simply impossible for marketers to flood every available channel to the point a jingle becomes memorable.
“This is why you are seeing old jingles resurrected because they came from a time when this was possible — the advertiser is drawing on warm, nostalgic memories,” Young added.
Nostalgia is Indeed Powerful
For her part, Haley Steed, outreach/SEO specialist at online marketing firm Direct Online Marketing, points to the recent popularity of Pokemon Go and even movie reboots like Ghostbusters.
She also noted nostalgia can appeal to wildly different demographics, from younger consumers who revere ad content of yesteryear to older ones who fondly recall memories of youth.
“Nostalgia allows people to escape the grind and mediocrity of the day-to-day. It creates a fantasy, it takes people back to a time when they were young, or a time that has been romanticized, and allows them to live there for a little while,” she said. “Which is exactly what good marketing does: transports its audience, then encourages them to buy.”
But beyond simply tapping into fond memories, here are five reasons marketers shouldn’t dismiss the humble jingle as irrelevant in the digital era:
1. Audio is an Effective Marketing Tool
In addition to jingles, look no further than the use of pop songs in advertising like, say, Train’s ‘Hey, Soul Sister‘.
“That is because [they have] built-in familiarity and emotional connection,” Young said. “It is much easier today to draw on a well-loved song and attach it to your product, transferring the feelings and emotions of the song to the brand.”
What’s more, for his part, McCambley said he thinks we’ll also see a resurgence of audio branding or sound trademarking in mobile, including tones or notes that consumers immediately associate with brands like AT&T, Skype, and Nokia.
2. Jingles are Yet Another Recognizable Branding Element
That’s because audio can also drive consumer recall.
“[A jingle is] a uniquely identifiable audio clip that works much in the same way as a brand’s tag line or even a brand’s logo,” said Matt Lee, director of marketing at brand development and inbound marketing agency Adhere Creative.
And the best jingles reinforce messages like brand promise, heritage, and consistency, said Scott Davis, chief growth officer at strategic consultancy Prophet.
3. Jingles, Like Pop Music, are Easy to Remember
But jingles are arguably the only branding element with the power to get stuck in our heads.
“Jingles still work for the same reason they worked in the past,” said Michal Strahilevitz, associate professor of marketing at Victoria University. “Be it a jingle or a pop song, if you play a catchy tune with cute lyrics over and over again, people remember it.”
And, boy, do they.
“I’ve never had to replace my windshield, but I have the Massachusetts-based Giant Glass jingle irrevocably wedged in my brain. I can’t recite it because I have such an affinity for windshield repair, I can recite it because I watched too much television as a kid and every commercial break during Red Sox games led off with that song,” said Ryan Coons, a copywriter at creative agency Struck. “It’s the same reason I can swear up and down that I can’t stand Maroon 5, but somehow I still know the words to ‘Sugar.’ It has been engineered to get stuck in my head and through endless repetition I’ve been beat into submission.”
Indeed, per McCambley, “reach and frequency” is a nice way to say “annoying repetition” and, long ago, jingles helped brands capture consumer attention even if those consumers left the living room during commercial breaks.
“Our job is to make people remember a brand at the moment they reach for a product on a store shelf. In that way, a jingle is the most distilled expression of that desire to be remembered,” Coons said. “As a device, jingles don’t need to concern themselves with being relevant, they have one job: get stuck in your head.”
Further, Coons said that’s precisely why consumers remember Mr. Clean’s jingle: It’s a catchy tune.
4. Jingles Cut Through Noise
And, per Davis, jingles can still be used to break through the clutter of our oversaturated, always-on, highly competitive world and simultaneously give consumers a feeling of familiarity and comfort.
“Given the competitive state for a consumer’s attention – anything that will give an edge to break through, grab attention and support brand recall is vital,” agreed Daniel Lobring, managing director of communication at integrated sports marketing agency rEvolution. “With consumers watching — or more likely just listening to — video ads, TV ads, Internet radio ads, etc., chances are that a memorable hook versus a straight copy read will grab their attention, good or bad. In some ways, the jingle becomes the hashtag or boilerplate. Think McDonald’s ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ or Kit Kat’s ‘Gimme a Break’ – in many ways you expect to hear it at the end of a spot. It creeps into your subconscious.”
5. Jingles are Manipulative
Shmuli Rosenberg, CEO of marketing and media firm fwd/NYC and who says he is launching an entire division dedicated to jingles and has written and produced a number already, including the Kars4Kids jingle, agreed music has a way of embedding messages in the consumer psyche.
“When words are put to music their meaning is amplified, and they become much more potent and powerful,” he said. “We teach young children through music and song. Nursery rhymes help children learn to form sentences, and we remember these for a lifetime. Using this tool has contemporary marketing power as it always has and always will.”
But it’s also because jingles activate multiple brain lobes simultaneously, noted Brandy Miller of communications firm Creative Technology Services.
“The motor center is activated in order to process the rhythm, the auditory center is activated in order to process the sound, the language center processes the lyrics and the limbic system processes the overall emotional core of the song. It’s a powerful recipe,” she said.
Further, consumer psychologist and retail consultant Bruce Sanders, author of “Sell Well: What Really Moves Your Shoppers,” noted the durability and effectiveness of jingles lies in what media scientists call drumbeats.
“Rhythmic elements build credibility in the brain. Rhythmically rhyming claims are more likely to be perceived as true than those that do not have this attribute,” Sanders said. “Any Southern Baptist minister and most campaigning politicians could have told the scientists the value of rhyming jingles. The rhythm soothes our defenses and the repetition of sounds lends the sort of familiarity we associate with truth. Further, the rhythm energizes us, and energy, even if expended in inefficient ways, can give us the perception of success.”
For marketers reconsidering jingles, here are a handful of tips for successful implementation:
1. Rinse and Repeat, Within Reason
Per Strahilevitz, jingles should be simple, easy to recall, and repeated frequently enough so that people learn them by heart, but not so often that they grow to despise them.
“Overplaying the jingle and making any assumptions that a jingle can actually shift consumer behaviors would be erroneous,” Davis added.
2. Don’t be Afraid to Get Emotional
Per Lee, a jingle should evoke an emotional response relatable to the experience of a brand’s products or services, whether that’s excitement, comfort, or happiness.
3. Keep it Fresh
To endure — and to drive traffic — brands should find ways to sustain interest and interaction with a jingle, such as encouraging consumers to share videos of themselves singing said song, like J.G. Wentworth did earlier this year, noted Jason Bauman, SEO associate at Internet and e-commerce optimization firm Trinity Insight.
Efforts like this can also help enhance organic traffic and search visibility.
“I think that jingles still have a lot of potency for brands, particularly if they can do something to encourage their audience to engage with it,” Bauman added. “[The] 877-CASH-NOW phone number has thousands of people searching for it every month and the term has a strong association with [J.G. Wentworth’s] name in customer’s minds. Getting something that’s a hit with an audience isn’t easy, but once you do, the payoff is measured in years.”
4. Remember Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day
The reappearance of decades-old jingles proves their power and influence – and their ability to connect with consumers who remember them fondly, said Michael Heiligenstein, marketing manager of small business review and how-to guide firm Fit Small Business.
“So creating a new jingle, you won’t even see the full value right away, but you will create an earworm that people will associate with the brand for years to come,” he added. “If a brand is planning to stick around for a long time, a jingle is a great way to cement themselves in consumers’ minds.”
While jingles may not be right for every brand, the fact remains that jingles are memorable brand assets that consumers can recall for years – often fondly – and they’re still worth considering in the digital era.