All together now: Whatever happened to ad jingles?
Twenty five years ago, Steve Karmen wrote a primer on how advertisers and musicians could make a good living writing catchy musical messages for mass audiences. It was titled “Through the Jingle Jungle: The Art and Business of Making Music for Commercials.”
But his sequel, written eight years ago, was filled with despair in a book titled “Who Killed the Jingle? How a Unique American Art Form Disappeared!”
Did the advertising jingle lose its flavor on the bedpost overnight?
“I love jingles,” says Jim Minor, owner of Minor Advertising Agency in Reno. “Not every client wants to use them, but I think it gives the client great identity and, frankly, I don’t think they are done enough.”
But Stephanie Kruse, owner of KPS3, a multi-level marketing and advertising agency in Reno, says she cannot recall developing a jingle for a client in the two decades she has been in business.
“We just don’t use them,” she says. “If a client has a memorable phone number or a web site, then a jingle can be a tool to jog a listener’s memory. If your world depended upon people calling you, like a taxi service, for instance, then I would consider it. But if you are doing business-to-business marketing, we would not do one.”
Jingles are merely advertising messages in song that tell the consumer to buy a certain brand of cereal, soap, soft drink or automobile. During commercial radio broadcasting’s heyday, they were ubiquitous and, the more often they were aired, the longer the message remained in the consumer’s subconscious thought.
“Jingles do have a subliminal effect,” says Minor. “You don’t think it is getting into your brain, but the good jingles do just that. I have a few clients that use them. One is Scolaris, the supermarket chain. We used the words ‘Where you are special every day’ and then we mention the ad specials every week.
“I recall when they did the Rail City casino jingle,” he says. “I want to say that Bruce Breslow, the former mayor of Sparks, was involved in creating the jingle that still runs today. It was a takeoff on Ghostbusters. ‘Who ya gonna call … Ghostbusters’, except it became ‘Where ya gonna go … Rail City.’ It is very catchy and it works well today.
Who writes today’s jingles? “Usually the agency will write them,” says Minor. “We will meet with the client to find out what its goals and objectives are, and then we will come up with the copy and take it to a jingle house.”
In northern Nevada, that jingle house might be Tanglewood Productions under the operation of Michael Eardley who, both Minor and Kruse say, is a very talented composer and lyricist. Eardley has spent countless hours having conversations with young musicians who think they can make money writing jingles.
“First of all, the jingle business is advertising-oriented,” Eardley says. “It is not a music-oriented business. Music is just a piece of the puzzle. It is the non-musical concerns that really make or break whether a jingle is going to be successful. There is a great deal of development to create a brand or message before a musician is hired to put something together in musical form.
“In my world, I’ve probably talked more clients out of jingles than have sold them on jingles,” Eardley says. “One of the cardinal rules of jingles is that unless you have the budget to play the message ad nauseum, it is not likely going to be very effective for you. Jingles just don’t get a chance to stay in your head unless it gets repeated, over and over. I cannot imagine sound branding happening without repetition.”
Larger advertising agencies typically have a stable of good copywriters who can be called upon to come up with a slogan that, hitched to music, becomes a memorable jingle. For others, a foray into jingle writing can be like catching lightning in a bottle, in some cases, providing instant celebrity. Take the creator of the jingle “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there!” It was written many years ago by a relatively unknown musician named Barry Manilow. He received a check for $500. We all know the rest of his story.
Sometimes, an agency will tap a known performer to just sing the jingle. “We used well known lounge performer, Danny Marona, once,” says Minor. “I think we paid him $1,500 for a jingle about a car dealer.”
But Tanglewood’s Eardley says the performer fee is only the tip of the iceberg for all production costs.
“For the simplest production locally that we might do, you are talking about $2,500 minimum,” he says. “When you get into a wider audience, you are talking about a lot more money, often into five figures. We just turned out a national jingle for a company in the south. Had a full big band with a catchy tune. Those are really fun to produce.”
Even though her agency chooses not to focus on jingles, KPS3’s Stephanie Kruse admits she has benefited from the jingle craze that once widely existed. “It was when I attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota,” she says. “I was a member of a college choir and our local radio station contacted our choir director and said they needed a mix of voices to sing jingles that the radio station wrote. They hired me to sing jingles.”
Foremost with such musical messages, Kruse says, is that the lyrics must make sense. “It’s got to rhyme and you’ve got to have someone who can write music, someone with the talent of a Mike Eardley, to make it all work.”
As for Jim Minor, the first jingle he was ever involved with is still etched in his mind. It was one written for Boomtown, then owned by Reno Mayor Bob Cashell. “He said to me, ‘Minor, you know anything about buying radio time? We need to advertise.’ I lied and said I did. I was just 22 years old, but we hired a local entertainment team of Gaylord and Holiday to write and sing a jingle.”
Minor then breaks out in song:
“We’ve got a great hotel and swimming pool here at Boomtown;
We’ve got a playroom for your children here at Boomtown;
The buffets are the nicest, and the rooms are reasonable prices;
Get that friendly feeling here at Boomtown.”
Minor says Cashell told him, ‘Minor, you memorize that jingle and don’t forget it.’
“Forty years later it is still in my mind,” he says.
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