Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Bring Back the Jingle!

Like many hipster parents, I'm always trying to get my son to watch vintage kids' programming, because I think it's cooler than what they make now. I've actually had quite a bit of success with Sesame Street Old School and Schoolhouse Rock. My son has started walking around the house singing "J Friends" and other classics.

These shows have always been interesting to me because they use advertising strategies to get kids to learn — especially jingles. Schoolhouse Rock was famously conceived by adman David McCall when he noticed that his son could remember Beatles lyrics, but not multiplication tables. It ended up being funded by a "sin tax" on advertisers for targetting kids during Saturday morning cartoons.

Sesame Street, of course, was known for creating short, snappy segments with high production values — many of them now-famous songs. With each episode "sponsored" by a letter or number, it used advertising's language, clich├ęs, and strategies to infest generations with incurable earworms like this:

Having grown up with educational jingles, ironically, made us more susceptible to real advertising. The '70s and early '80s were perhaps the last hurrah for the traditional jingle.

We all knew how a Big Mac was made:

And Canadian kids all knew that "Molson Light has got heart" (whatever the hell that meant):

So, why did the ad industry drop the jingle? Sure, it still turns up in cheesy infomercials and other low-end campaigns, but what about the major consumer brands? I suspect that, although we loved jingle as kids, my generation of admen take ourselves too seriously. Not many jingles win awards. (With some very notable exceptions):

The other problem is that we're a creatively lazy generation. We're consantly borrowing interest from existing pop culture to create instant likability for ads. Why write a jingle of unknown success, when you can just buy a real Beatles song?

I don't know if there's any hope for a jingle renaissance in the future. Especially in my field, where I'm more involved in social than consumer marketing.

Although, I have to say that during a recent strategy session for a health-based client, our research into successful vintage Canadian social marketing campaigns ended with a Participaction sing-along:

So there's that. Does anyone want to give me a bouncy "C"?


  1. I miss the good ones, like the A&W tuba solo.

    Maybe jingles were intially a holdover from radio advertising, and afterwards, a way to tie together a national TV and radio campaign. We don't hear much national-level radio advertising any more, and visual branding (e.g. golden arches) and slogans ("Can you hear me now?") work better on billboards, print and web ads, etc. for tying in with a TV campaign.

  2. I think jingles are more than cross-media tie-in. Song and verse are primeval mnemonic devices. (Epic poems as preliterate literature.) They seem to work better on memory than prose, because they activate different parts of the brain.

    There's even a book that sees the origin of language in song: The Singing Neanderthal. http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/MITSIN.html
    Interesting read.