The appeal of a simple melody was never more evident than in this recent musical moment from my youngest daughter as she puttered around the living room:
“Liberty, Liberty, Liberty. Liberty.”
She has no concept of its source (Liberty Mutual) or its services (insurance). It’s just catchy enough to stick in your head, and for an 8-year-old to belt out at random moments.
That’s the power of the jingle. These radio or television earworms wiggle into your brain and, with enough repetition, stay there long after the ad ends.
“Jingles are the key to a lot of long-term advertising success,” says Ben Downs, vice president and general manager of Bryan Broadcasting. “Music seems to live in a different spot of your brain where recall is a lot easier. When you get somebody singing the Kars 4 Kids jingle, most people can sing along, even if it is annoying. ‘1-877-Kars 4 Kids …’ is enough to get them going.”
It’s interesting how long a jingle can stay with us. If a young person were to inquire of the ingredients of a Big Mac, countless adults could come to the rescue by rattling off “two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun.”
A quick start and a memorable finish make a good combination. Take O’Reilly’s Auto Parts, and its familiar “O-O-O, O’Reillyyyy’s …” Now skip to the finish line, when the ad ends with a squealing “Ow!” Is the singer a huge James Brown fan, or sporting a freshly stubbed toe? It makes no sense. But any time it comes on in my truck, we “Ow!” right along with it.
Bathroom humor can also register, for better or worse. Whenever Pepto Bismol’s ad airs – the one that details unfortunate scenarios when it is needed, including a dramatic emphasis on the worst of those scenarios – there are chuckles and singalongs from the children in the truck. Also the adults.
A couple of old local jingles stand out in my memory for their exuberance. Like the long-gone department store Foley’s, and its hair-on-fire treatment of a Red Apple Sale: “Look what’s going on … AT FOLEEEEY’S!” It’s like the singer consumed poison, and the antidote was sold exclusively at Foley’s.
And the old restaurant Fajita Rita’s portrayed an overstressed professional counting down to 5 o’clock for his chips-and-guac fix: “I wanna throw this tie away! I wanna have some FU-UUN!”
One of the more active industries in local jingles is, somewhat surprisingly, roofing companies:
America’s Choice Roofing: “Where there’s a great roof in Texas, weeeee’re on it.”
Hilco Metal Building & Roofing Supply: “Come on down and see. We got everything that your little project needs.”
Schulte Roofing: “The home of the bullet-proof roof [bullet-ricochet sound].”
Lone-Star Roof Systems takes a different approach, bluntly declaring in its ads, “No jingles, just roofs.”
“If the customer wants to pay for a jingle, that is fine,” says owner Luke Bradicich. “But when they call us they will be getting a quality roof.”
Repetition can help cement a jingle in our brains, and so credit should go to DoubleDave’s Pizzaworks for its long-running local ad. When you hear that five-honk sound, you know what follows: chipper singers chirping “Let’s go to DoubleDave’s, DoubleDave’s,” and a male vocalist so in need of pizza that he’s almost growling the verses.
The ad hasn’t changed in more than 30 years, according to Chuck Thorp, president and CEO of the Austin-based company. It was written and produced by an Austin man known as “the Jingle Meister,” Thorp says, who was such a DoubleDave’s fan that he was paid for his work in pizza.
Thorp acknowledges that “You either love it or hate it.” The main point may be that you remember it.
“It’s gotta be catchy and it’s gotta stick,” Thorp says of good jingles. “Within a couple of months of us airing it in Bryan-College Station and Austin, people would walk in the door singing it. It was just crazy.”
There have been attempts at updating the ad, Thorp says, including bebop and rock ’n’ roll versions. All earned a thumbs-down from the company’s franchisee panel.
“I think the mindset is, why mess with something that works?” Thorp says.
But there are plenty of businesses that have done just that. Some, like McDonald’s, have a knack for it and score hit after hit. From “You deserve a break today” to “special-sauce-lettuce-cheese” to the current “I’m lovin’ it / Ba-duh-buh-buh-buh.”
Downs notes that some companies take a puzzling route:
“If you were a national company and you want your product to always be remembered, why on earth would you ever change ‘My bologna has a first name …’ or ‘Give me a break, break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar.”
A jingle even led to a moment of parenting clarity. A few weeks after my daughter’s “Liberty, Liberty, Liberty” performance, she surprised me again. This time it was something she must have heard during my bad nightly habit of flipping around cable news shows, which inevitably includes commercials from an increasingly political personality on one network:
“For the best night’s sleep in the whole wide world visit My Pillow dot com,” she sang as my eyes grew wide.
Maybe I’ll turn the TV off for a while.