Why jingles no longer jangle

We are exposed to thousands of advertising and promotional messages each day, according to the experts: and as a result, they say, the single biggest challenge facing brands today is advertising clutter.

Meanwhile, TV advertising – the banker medium for so many brands – is increasingly plagued by passive viewing. The TV is on, but nobody’s really watching: they’re all too busy chatting to their friends, reading a book, or nipping out to make a cup of tea.

This attention deficit disorder is especially true of daytime TV, where viewers increasingly only look up when something catches their attention. So marketers are constantly seeking new, smart ways to get through to consumers.

But now it seems that one of these new, smart ways of grabbing attention is actually older and smarter – the jingle. Once the mainstay of all broadcast advertising, but for many years shunned in favour of more “creative” treatments.

Yet now, with the release of CDs featuring collections of classic tracks from TV and radio ads and “brand sounds” gaining copyright (like the hugely successful Direct Line “cavalry charge”) the jingle is regaining its place in the marketer’s arsenal.

Almost everybody can remember advertising jingles and slogans from five, ten or even 20 years ago – although they don’t always admit it, as nothing dates you more accurately than the TV tunes you know.

St Luke’s creative director Tim Hearn comments: “I can recite, lyric for lyric, product benefits for brands from two decades ago – such as ‘Birds Eye peas are as fresh as the moment when the pod went pop’.”

But the jingle fell out of favour some time in the Seventies, and continues to be seen as hugely unfashionable in many quarters. “There’s no doubt that the jingle gets a bad press in creative departments,” says Hearn. “It’s deemed ‘cooler’ to lift an existing song. But no one could deny that a good jingle will serve a brand better in the long term.”

Radio Advertising Bureau director of account planning Andrew Ingram comments: “It’s partly a fashion issue – crazes come and go. But actually, what has fallen out of favour is just the cheesy jingle. Advertisers are still using sounds to make their ads work harder.”

The RAB – which obviously has something of a vested interest in the issue – is attempting to update the use of sounds in advertising, and has even come up with an alternative name to the slightly downmarket jingle – sonic brand triggers. The RAB has just published a guide on the topic: “Using Sonic Brand Triggers”.

Ingram explains: “Like visuals or smells, sounds can become associated with brands, and once they are, they become hugely powerful as branding devices. Sonic brand triggers are being used widely in TV and radio, and some are more subtle than others.” He cites the Direct Line Insurance jingle as one of the less subtle ones.

At the other end of the spectrum is British Airways, which uses the Flower Duet theme from Delibes’ opera Lakme. It isn’t what any one would call a jingle, yet it has become inextricably associated with the BA brand, and the airline uses it for its inflight music, its tele-phone holding messages and so on.

But why are jingles, or sonic brand triggers, so powerful? Rosamond McGuiness, Emeritus Professor of Music at Royal Holloway University of London, explains: “One of the extraordinary things about sound in general, and music in particular, is that it has the power to penetrate the mind almost unnoticed – so it makes sense that advertisers would be extremely interested in it.”

Ingram says advertisers are beginning to include sonic brand triggers deliberately in their long-term planning. Norwich Union, for example, has put together the double triggers of the red braces visual and the song “You can’t touch me , I’m part of the union”.

But he admits that take up of sonic brand triggers on radio has been slow, as the Radio Advertising Archive analysis in the chart (right) demonstrates.

“This is a long-term process,” he explains. “The triggers have to be established through repetition. The ghost of cheesy jingles still puts some people off at the first step.”

In a curious parallel, the catchphrase has made a comeback recently, most conspicuously in BBC TV’s The Fast Show, which has generated dozens of them, such as “Does my bum look big in this?”

Charlie Higson, who writes, produces and performs in the show, sees the whole area as a natural for advertising: “I think people instinctively absorb and replay sounds that entertain, or move them, or remind them of things. You can call it sonic brand triggers, you can call it whatever you want – it’s a very powerful territory.”

Examples of Sonic Brand TRIGGERS

Carphone Warehouse theme music by Stereo MCs

Sound component of Intel logo

‘It’s all for you – BBC Radio 2’

‘Where in the world? PC World’

‘I’m a secret lemonade drinker – R Whites’

‘Papa?’ ‘Nicole?’ (Renault)

The Hamlet theme (Air on a G String)

‘For hands that do dishes to feel soft as your face, choose mild green Fairy Liquid’

‘Army Soldier – (SFX Boots stamping to attention) – Be the Best’

British Airways theme from ‘Lakme’ by Delibes

‘Open up, open up…Nescafé…’

‘There may be trouble ahead…’ (Allied Dunbar)

‘Oh we are the lads from Country Life, and you’ll never put a better bit o’ butter on your knife’

‘Do the Shake & Vac and put the freshness back’

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