It was designed to remind advertisers of the continuing influence and effectiveness of television but in fact served to highlight the remarkable power of sound branding. Thinkbox, the television marketing body for major UK commercial broadcasters, recently unveiled its very first TV advert featuring a man on a psychiatrist’s couch who is prompted to go to a “happy place” in his mind. Far from imagining a sandy beach or flower-filled meadow the patient blurts out a series of famous jingles from the last 30 years. Among the slogans are Just One Cornetto, immortally sung to Italy’s O Sole Mio, the beautifully harmonised Mild Green … Fairy Liquid and of course, the unforgettable WOAH!! Bodyform.
The Thinkbox ad has received mixed reviews, with a post on one forum claiming it “shows our minds are full of the most worthless garbage serving no function or purpose other than to drive us absolutely insane”. But for many, it provides a nostalgic, 60-second trip down memory lane. As Thinkbox says, it’s the sort of commercial that starts conversations about TV ads – which ones we like best and why we remember them above other types of advertising. So why are these slogans so memorable, so effortlessly able, decades on, to allows us not only to recall a particular time in our lives but an individual product? One reason is the humble jingle.
Jingles began on the radio in the 1920s and played a major part in product advertising for the next six decades – reaching their peak around the economic boom of the 1950s. The jingle was an advertising phenomenon with everyone from kids in the playground to mums doing the washing up humming along to the likes of A finger of fudge is just enough to give your kids a treat and You take the Shake’n Vac and put the freshness back. But what is it about these jingles, these momentary melodies that can stick in our heads not just for hours but years? Why do these often ‘cheesy’ sound slogans have an impact that goes far beyond any visuals?
The issue of mnemonics is a big one which has, over the years, been heavily explored by psychologists, bloggers, scientists and advertisers alike. James Kellaris at the University of Cincinnati had devoted much of his research to “catchy” music and the phenomenon of ‘earworms’ – commercial jingles or tunes that get stuck in one’s head. He believes songs that are simple, repetitive and contain some incongruity – an unexpected twist – are most likely to become stuck in a listener’s mind. He initially theorised certain properties of music make some songs “catchy” or “sticky”. But research shows that although many jingles seem to share some common traits such as simplicity, repetitiveness, inconsistency with listeners’ expectations, for some people, almost any song can become an ‘earworm’. So the phenomenon is perhaps a mixture between the interaction of musical properties and individual traits, rather than the result of musical properties alone.
Whatever the science behind the impact of these jingles one thing we do know is that despite their tried and tested effectiveness, they have fallen out of fashion. Adverts of this kind have been replaced with chic, mini-movie style commercials aimed at impacting on the reader in a wholly different way. But will the next generation really be able to remember the products associated with these new ads – so often visually stunning but lacking in memorable sound? As put by internet marketers the Eisenberg brothers in their book Call to Action, “sound is invasive, intrusive and irresistible”. We are able to memorise hundreds of songs because they come into the brain through sound. What we hear tends to be remembered much more easily than what we see because of the impression it makes on our mind and how hard it is to ignore.
So what of the future of the jingle? Interestingly, a number of big name brands have recently decided to revert to times past, pulling us back to those early, cosy days of TV advertising. In January 2009, after an absence of 28 years, the Beanz meanz Heinz jingle made a comeback following research showing the slogan is one of the most memorable ever written. Just this month, the Red Car and the Blue Car Had a Race Milky Way advert from the 1980s returned to our screens adapted only very slightly for a 21st century audience.
Could jingles really be making a comeback? Watch this space …
The following UK jingles were voted the catchiest of all time, in a survey carried out by McCann Erickson:
1. Wall’s Cornetto ‘Just One Cornetto’
2. Shake’n’Vac ‘Do the Shake and Vac’
3. R Whites ‘Secret Lemonade Drinker’
4. Kia Ora ‘I’ll Be Your Dog’
5. Mars ‘A Mars a Day Helps You Work, Rest and Play’
6. Kwik-Fit ‘Can’t Get Quicker Than a Kwik-Fit Fitter’
7. Club Biscuits ‘If You Like a Lot of Chocolate on Your Biscuit Join Our Club.”
8. Coca-Cola – ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”
9. Cadbury’s Flake – ‘Crumbliest Flakiest Chocolate’
10. Um Bongo ‘They Drink it in the Congo
Love them or hate them, there’s always one you can’t get out of your head. Does one stand out for you?
Let us know!