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Top image credit: MILO Singapore

We’ve all experienced what it’s like having an earworm—a piece of music that won’t stop replaying in your head, over and over again. The bane of productivity and a good night’s sleep.

My first memorable earworm came many years back, in the form of Pizza Hut’s famous advertising jingle, “62-35-35-35, Pizza Hut delivery!” For days, the catchy tune played incessantly in my head until it was replaced by yet another tune. This time, to the voice of a man singing Kuishin Bo’s “dong dong dong, 1, 2, 3.” tune again and again.  

It was infuriating yet deliciously addictive. Fun albeit a little corny; short, but oh so effective. Fast forward 9 years later and I still remember every word.

But that was then.

You’d expect things to get better with time, but sadly, modern day jingles don’t quite match up to their predecessors. Rather, they’ve become shadows of their former selves, lacking in both quantity and quality.

Since the birth of advertising, jingles have never failed to make an appearance.

Vandana Gupta who authored Ad. Jingles: Brand Recall, explains that advertisements frequently incorporated jingles as it helped the ad stand out and create greater memorability for a consumer.

KT Lim from London Biscuits Berhad, the company behind the infamous London Choco Roll advertisement, agrees.

“Like nursery rhymes, remembering a product is easier when it’s associated with a catchy tune and simple, memorable lyrics,” he says.

Their jingle is a perfect example of this, in which the words ‘London Choco Roll’ comprise 4 of the 9 verses. The rest of the verses are dedicated to emphasising the thickness of it’s double choco cream, yet these are not the words that people remember.

KT adds, “A good ad campaign involves repetition and jingles take it a step further.”

“Jingles communicate a message disguised in a melody that you’ll remember, and it gives life and personality to products normally regarded as ordinary, boring household items.”

While some consumers may take to jingles, others complain, finding them to be annoying and manipulative.

And they’re right. Jingles are manipulative.

According to Drew Lazer who wrote Art Of The Earworm: How Catchy Food Jingles Are Designed To Stick In Your Head, jingles aren’t catchy by accident. They’re tonally calibrated to reverberate in your head and slither into your subconsciousness. And they can work wonders too.

“The use of jingles and the integrated slogans has vaulted us to worldwide fame,” shares KT, whose brand has since seen a significant boost in sales since the launch of their jingle in 2008.

In 2003, however, The Economist, in the face of the rising popularity of pop music, bravely proclaimed ‘the death of the jingle’.

For starters, jingles don’t sound as good as they used to.

Jeremy Monteiro, who from 1981-1991 composed and produced over 700 jingles, attributes this to new technology and smaller budgets.  

“I was the last in a line of jingle writers who had 60-70% of the jingle market. After 1991, it became splintered because of computer music programs and the MIDI system which allowed people to do recordings in bedroom studios.”

Prior to that, jingles were produced quite differently. It was no easy task, relying on real instruments, musicians, singers and experienced jingle writers who were coached on the marketing aspects of a product or service and could easily communicate it through music.

With today’s greater technology and smaller budgets, “almost all the tracks are done by computer and not so much with real players. Production values are to some extent, not as good,” Jeremy tells me.

While jingles such as Marigold’s “Give me one, give me one, give me one more!”, and Oreo’s “Joy begins, with the taste of Oreo Thins.” released in 2015 and 2016 respectively look and sound good, they lack the infectious quality and musical depth of past jingles.   

Unsurprisingly, substituting real music for technology, is a trend that’s symptomatic not just of the jingle industry but of the music industry in general.

According to Jeremy, lower advertising budgets discourage jingle writers who are no longer finding it worth the while to continue being involved in the business. He did the same in 1993, leaving jingles behind for a jazz career.

“I’ll only do it very rarely if it’s something I believe in that also has a big budget. It sounds mercenary but to me, jingle writing is just business.”

With fewer talents around, companies thus prefer to put their money towards licensing the usage of popular songs or hiring celebrity spokespeople to appear in ads. There are also tactics that they believe might resonate better with younger and more contemporary audiences.  

Admittedly, this might just be the right move.

Of Singapore’s top 10 ads on Google’s YouTube Ads leaderboard for 2016, none enlisted the help of jingles. Instead, those that did make the list featured celebrities and influencers such as The Sam Willows, Tan Jian Hao, Dee Kosh and NOC.

Advertisements like DBS SPARKS’ widely popular mini-series—basically ads that were longer, incorporated more forms of storytelling, and that successfully tugged at one’s heartstrings—also performed well.

In the face of these new advertisements, jingles seem to have become irrelevant, perceived as “an old fashioned way of doing business that sounds corny to young consumers,” as Charles Taylor writes in his paper, The Imminent Return of The Advertising Jingle.

As such, even companies that have built their trademark off the backs of their jingles are either weaning off their reliance on it, or constantly finding ways to breathe new life into it.

The familiar ‘ba da ba ba ba’ tune and ‘I’m lovin’ it’ slogan of McDonald’s has become less prominent in their recent advertisements. London Choco Roll’s iconic jingle has been updated 5 times since its 2008 release, and most recently, with the addition of beat boxing to help “spice up the jingle”.

But not everyone is bemoaning the demise of the jingle. In fact, many consumers may be glad to see jingles go for good.

For all it’s catchiness and effectiveness, jingles can be downright annoying. After all, who wants to be lying in bed at 1 AM singing about Marigold Jelly (Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course)?  

But at least jingles are honest, with nothing to hide. On the other hand, ads nowadays don’t even look remotely like ads at all.

One could be midway through reflecting on an inspirational story of a student-teacher relationship when the screen cuts to a logo of MOE. As we’re busy crying over actors reenacting scenes of a family illness and death, we find out that it’s actually for an ad that’s promoting DBS. As we’re laughing at Eden Ang winking and handing out too many ang baos during Chinese New Year, Starhub’s logo pops up, wishing us a prosperous celebration.

You’ve got to hand it to them. Ads these days win at subtlety and blending in.

Rather than jingles that blatantly promote a product or tell you what number to call or where to go, advertisements that endear, entertain, and gently nudge us towards a product or service are now favoured.

Like clickbait, they reel you in. And before you know it, they’re selling you a product, an idea, or a lifestyle. Judging from how well these ads perform, it’s what audiences these days seem to prefer.

For all the complaints that consumers have fielded about the jingle being manipulative, the reality is that they don’t hold a candle to contemporary advertisements and how they seek to worm their way into our hearts.

It’s emotional manipulation that you don’t even see coming.

And so jingles, not being the most ideal medium to communicate such intentions, have naturally fallen by the wayside.

But even though the jingle is indeed waning, will it disappear entirely?

While jingles do seem to be headed for extinction, it’s hard to say if they will really die out completely. After all, jingles have become more than just catchy tunes.

They’ve become reminders of our youth, when the ads were simpler and more honest, when we still used to hear them over the radio or on television, and when music wasn’t crap.

So is it perhaps time to #savethejingle?

I most definitely think so.

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