Death Of The Jingle

Advertisers, desperate to find a way to reach an audience, are like the parent who screams in frustration that her kids aren’t listening to her. The more she yells at the kid to keep his room clean, the dirtier it gets. Mama’s words have lost their punch. Even Mama’s punch has lost its effectiveness, because the kid knows he will survive it.

Everyone blames the ever-diversifying consumer market, the thousands of cable channels, satellite radio, yada yada yada. Few people look at the content of the ads.

A copywriter goes to, types in a category and accesses hundreds of songs, which provide not only music ideas but a possible campaign slogan as well. An art director sifts through piles of CDs that arrive each day from record labels and searches their covers for inspiration. An agency producer instructs his film editor to use a particular pop song; do the cut first, and we’ll deal with the rights later.

Advertising has become a sneaky business of short-term ideas—give them a joke, and slip the sponsor’s name in at the end with a product shot. After the first 20 seconds of a spot, often you don’t even know what it’s for. And by then, who cares?

If they do remember a commercial at all, people usually can’t connect it with a product. That’s because nobody is singing about the product. The ads are singing about everything but the product. Commercials don’t sound like advertising anymore. They sound like everything but advertising. And that’s a big mistake.

When did it become wrong to sell something? Producing a great product and marketing it is what made America great. The spots we remember are the ones that sang to us about the product, or danced for us about the product, or entertained us musically about the product for 30 seconds, and we in turn would watch, because original advertising music demanded our attention. And when we went to the store and saw the product, we remembered the jingle!

A lyric in a commercial has to relate to the product and not be afraid to name it, or the ad that costs millions to produce and broadcast fails.

This sea change was no accident. When the major record companies and music publishers—once mere bystanders on the fringes of the advertising music world—realized they could replace the income they were losing from Internet downloading and digital copying with sync licenses and performance fees, they formed well-financed, highly aggressive “creative resource departments,” whose sole purpose was to entice ad agencies into paying big bucks for the use of their pop songs in advertising. It crippled an industry. Composers who once worked to provide a sponsor with an original, unique, long-lasting, stand-alone audio campaign platform now do little more than shorten pop songs to fit into commercials.

How did the ad industry become a revenue stream for the record business? How did the record business designate itself as a marketing partner to Madison Avenue, without ever demonstrating an ability to provide a return on the sizeable investment in a pop song’s license fee?

Sorry, they gave me only 500 words.

For the Record: In the list of the Top 50 Interactive Agencies [Feb. 21], estimated 2003 revenue for Aegis’ Isobar unit was misstated. It should have been stated as $54.5 million. Thus, estimated 2004 revenue of $100 million represented year-on-year growth of 83 percent. In the creative feature on John Jay [Feb. 21], the basketball player pictured in the screen grab of the ‘Chamber of Fear’ anime spot was LeBron James, not Kobe Bryant. In a news story [Feb. 21], the name of Samsung svp of sales and marketing Peter Weedfald was misspelled.

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