The Beat Goes On

LL Cool J raps, “The taste of originality.” Sultry Spanish pop star Paulina Rubio sings, “Salutes individuality.” A product name is mentioned several times, the tune is catchy, but—to paraphrase another ditty—this is not your father’s jingle.

These are the latest executions of the “Be You” campaign, which updates Dr Pepper’s 1999 jingle, “Dr Pepper makes the world taste better,” by using celebrities and pop stars to reach Latino and African American audiences. Instead of commissioning a track, Young & Rubicam enlisted pop performers to sing the praises of Dr Pepper.

Licensed pop songs may dominate ad soundtracks, but reports of the jingle’s death are greatly exaggerated. It has adapted to survive in a new musical climate, and may yet thrive again, with some creatives suggesting that licensed music is losing its luster.

“The jingle is going to make a comeback,” says Lyle Greenfield, founder of Bang Music in New York. “People are becoming more and more aware of the importance of creating their own brand language, as opposed to borrowing other people’s language for their brand.”

That a successful jingle should “go in one ear and not out the other,” as those in the jingle biz like to say, is indisputable. Mention Oscar Mayer, for example, and most Americans can sing the entire “I wish I were an Oscar Mayer weiner” song without missing a word. (That jingle, introduced in 1963, is still featured in the hot dog company’s ads, along with its bologna song, which debuted in 1974.)

“If they’re done right, jingles can make an advertisement much more memorable,” says Cheryl Berman, chief creative officer of Leo Burnett in Chicago and author of two jingles that debuted last year, Hallmark’s “Rememberin’ ” and Disney’s “Share a Dream Come True.” “Its got a kind of residual effect that commercials today don’t have.”

In the heyday of the jingle, from the ’50s—when radio was the dominant medium and television was just becoming widespread—to the 1980s, there was a custom tune for almost every product, from TVs to shaving cream. As media outlets expanded and audiences were exposed to different types of music and programming, the jingle began to seem outdated. “Not everybody had to grow up listening to the same 20 songs over and over,” Greenfield says. “Cheerful songs about products weren’t relevant to what people were listening to anymore.”

By the ’90s, music houses, once known as jingle houses, were dedicated mostly to underscoring ads, not writing pithy tunes. The decline in record sales helped spur the popularity of licensed music—record companies lowered licensing costs, eager to give their artists more exposure. “Long gone are the days when we had to write six-figure checks for pieces of existing music,” says DDB executive creative director John Staffen. In 1999, Volkswagen and Arnold created a phenomenon when a spot that used Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” prompted a surge in sales of the record. Numerous similar scenarios followed.

Companies like Crushing Music in New York have compensated for the decline in jingles by arranging new versions of popular songs. Crushing founder Joey Levine recently rearranged Mike and the Mechanics’ “All I Need Is a Miracle” for Verizon, the Gilligan’s Island theme for AT&T Wireless and the Get Smart theme for American Express.

“Creatives at agencies have more options than they did in the 1950s,” says Jan Horowitz, business administrator for David Horowitz Music Associates in New York and secretary/ treasurer of the Association for Music Producers. “They can license a tune and do an arrangement of it.”

But in the same way a catchy tune lodges in your brain, the jingle has steadfastly stuck around. “The death of the jingle is only the death of the jingle as we have known it in the past,” says Steve Ford, founder of Steve Ford Music in Chicago.

A classic case is Kit Kat’s “Gimme a Break” jingle, created in 1987 and revamped for a campaign that broke in January. In the latest work from DDB, New York, the emphasis is on the hard-rock music, with just “Gimme a break” remaining as the lyrics. The agency hired Andrew W.K.—an upstart rocker whose debut album, out last year, shows him with blood pouring out of his nose—to update the song.

“We felt that we had to do something slightly different, to kind of wake it up and make it relevant,” says Staffen. “No one wanted to walk away from the jingle itself, because it had so much equity.”

Dr Pepper likewise has a history of jingles in its ads, beginning with “Be a Pepper” in 1977 up to “Now is the time, this is the place” in the 1990s. A Dr Pepper rep says consumer research led to a shift in focus from taste to individuality and originality, and artists with those traits were chosen to sing the new jingle.

“That’s a great example of using a jingle in a very cool way, utilizing famous artists,” says Josh Rabinowitz, a music producer at Dr Pepper shop Young & Rubicam in New York.

In keeping with the theme, the performers were given the leeway to make the jingle their own. “I gave LL Cool J some lyrics and music, and he reinterpreted it his way,” says Young & Rubicam creative director Harold Kaplan.

Why not have famous people singing their own songs? “That’s borrowed interest and not Dr Pepper—it’s something else,” says Kaplan.

(The remnants of a less successful rock-marketer partnership lives on the Web at www.chocodog.com, where the band Ween has posted two of the six “Where’d the Cheese Go?” jingles it submitted for a Pizza Hut spot by Wieden + Kennedy. A hip-hop version of the song was chosen instead, although the ad was pulled after only a week. “It is one of the best tunes we wrote all year,” protests a band member on the site.)

Arnold in Boston updated the McDonald’s Big Mac jingle—”Two all beef patties …”—in a spot for the sandwich’s 35th anniversary that broke in the Northeast in January. The ad shows people from all walks of life reciting the song, created in 1975, in a hip-hop style. “As jingles go, it’s probably one of the best known of all time,” says Arnold copywriter Bruce Patterson. “We thought that if we could update it in a fun way, it would be interesting.”

Pepsi also used the updated-nostalgia angle for last year’s Super Bowl ad, with Britney Spears singing Pepsi jingles dating from the ’50s—”People who think young say, ‘Pepsi, please’ “—to the present-day “Joy of Pepsi.”

TV viewers are hearing more than just updates of classic jingles. Last month, Procter & Gamble put a full-length version of an original song for Cheer, “Always (Thinking About You),” as a downloadable file on its Web site after the soft-rock tune proved popular. The jingle was created by Leo Burnett in Toronto for an ad that broke in September in Canada and launched in the U.S. in February.

In November, Goodby Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco launched an eBay campaign featuring an original song to the tune of “My Way.” “When eBay is doing a jingle, I’d say there’s a comeback,” says Linda Kaplan Thaler, CEO and chief creative director of The Kaplan Thaler Group in New York, who got her start in advertising writing jingles, including the Toys ‘R’ Us song. “Five years ago, a hip, trendy company wouldn’t have done that.”

Two Kaplan Thaler Group accounts currently feature jingles in their ads: Blimpies (“I want my Blimpie”) and Coldwell Banker, which uses a tango-themed song. Both campaigns broke last year.

One way to modernize an original tune is to make it sound more like a contemporary pop song and avoid mentioning the product name. “In the old days, you would get really specific in the lyrics—’RCA Color TV,’ ” says Ford. “Now you try to find adjectives [that evoke the product] or product attributes.”

Ford recently composed a track for clothing line Just My Size, which works with Publicis in Mid America, that has a “retro funk” feel and does not include the brand name. Similarly, an FCB spot for Nabisco’s Chip’s Ahoy CremeWiches that broke last April features animated figures singing the catchy hook, “I’m stuck in the middle. Smack dab in the middle.” The product name isn’t in the lyrics, but the point is clear: The snack consists of two cookies connected by a cream center (in the spot, two cookies and cream are jammed together on a bus). A Chips Ahoy Warm & Chewies ad, showing animated cookies in a microwave, features a similar song.

Food and children’s products are two categories that work especially well for jingles, says Ford. “With kids, you don’t have to worry about being hip, because you just want to get their attention,” he says.

Getting any viewer’s attention is increasingly difficult with licensed music, argues Staffen, who licensed the Barenaked Ladies’ “If I Had a Million Dollars” for New York Lottery TV and radio ads in 2001. “Creatives are looking for a way to get their work to pop,” he says. “If everybody is using a Led Zeppelin or a Rolling Stones song, you’re not caught—it doesn’t make you look at the TV when you hear the Rolling Stones.

“There’s going to be a natural backlash against using existing music,” he adds. “It’s not novel anymore.”

Kaplan Thaler agrees, saying that relying on well-known artists can backfire. “There’s such a massive use of [licensed music] that it runs the risk of people not remembering the product but the songs,” she notes. “They don’t buy the car, they buy the CD. Original music has a way of continuing the brand itself after the 30-second spot has stopped running. You’re singing its praises to yourself and anyone who’s listening to you in the shower.”