Have you ever thought about why you say the things you do?
I’m not talking about the transactional, necessary sentences you speak to live life. I mean the phrases you use, the outdated references, and the inside jokes that now seem to only be between you and yourself.
This is something that has been on my mind a lot lately. Over the course of the last several years, I have verbally accosted my husband with all the weird inside jokes my mom and I share. I use the word “accosted” because I sing jingles or misquote movie lines to him and act aghast when he has no idea to what I am referencing.
Flash forward to present day, and he is now making the very same jokes. Let’s just say I’ve been playing the long con, drawing him to the deep waters of the 1970s jingle iceberg.
One afternoon, however, he had the perfect parry to my latest jingle. “You should write an article about jingles and theme songs. They used to be so prevalent – and effective – yet seem to have disappeared in modern marketing.”
So alas, my five years of jingle torture have come back to bite me in the butt. Let’s skip down the yellow brick road of old-school advertising and take a look at jingles and theme songs that still get sung today.
But first, why do marketing jingles even work?
Before I get into jingles, I should point out why they work. This won’t take long, because it’s pretty straightforward.
A lot of marketing comes down to repetition. That’s why the age-old “rule of seven” says that marketers should try to expose their customers to their product at least seven times.
Each time a product is seen, that’s called an impression. Get enough impressions, and your odds of getting a customer to be interested, want your product, and eventually buy it go up.
Marketers make jingles to be catchy, and frankly, kind of annoying. If you follow the classic AIDA model, jingles are meant to build awareness and interest more than anything else. The hope being that if you get the jingle stuck in your head when you’re at the store, you’ll buy the product, just to see what it’s all about.
But where did all the jingles go? They haven’t disappeared from marketing, but it’s worth remembering: we don’t live in the network TV era. We live in the post-network era. Mass media doesn’t have the same level of appeal, so you can just blast a huge group of people with a general message and hope they buy your stuff.
That’s not to say that music in marketing isn’t alive and well. (Just look at TikTok!) But it does mean that we’re not all getting the same songs stuck in our heads, which makes it feel like jingles don’t work anymore.
But enough explaining. Let’s take a look at these chaotic jingles from days gone by.
Marketing jingles from 1973 – 2004
Oscar Mayer – 1973
My bologna has a first name, it’s O-S-C-A-R
My bologna has a second name it’s M-A-Y-E-R.
Oh I love to eat it every day
And if you asked me why I’d saaaaaaay
‘Cause Oscar Mayer has a way with B-O-L-O-G-N-AAAAA.
I can picture singing this song with my mom in the car, down to me mimicking her mimicking the boy sitting on his front stoop and saying “bologna” as though he were pulling the words from the depths of his throat.
This jingle works wonders for a few reasons:
First, the speaker is a child. Who else is going to truly know the best brand of bologna than a kid who eats it for lunch every day? Second, the brand name is seamlessly worked into the jingle while also playing on the fact that the spelling for bologna and the pronunciation for bologna is nonsensical. Third, the jingle is incredibly simple and a natural earworm.
It works really well. Can you name another bologna brand? I sure can’t.
Nesquik – 1970’s-80’s
It’s so rich and thick and choc-o-late that ya (*begin stomping your foot) caaaaaan’t drink it slowwwwwww if it’s quick (stop stomping) boh boh dio!
That’s the saddest sound I know.
Here’s another jingle gem imparted to me from my mother. Any time a straw slurps the bottom of a cup, my mom would either say “you know what that means in Missouri” or she would begin singing the Nesquik jingle.
Because you know what? Realizing you have reached the bottom of your chocolate milk or milkshake or something else delicious truly is a sad sound indeed!
For me, this jingle has stuck with me for the emotional draw. Nesquik takes something so simple as the sound of finishing a delicious drink and turns it into their jingle. The sound and emotion of finishing a milkshake is a fairly universal experience.
If the beverage in question is not that great, then it is reasonable to believe that a person would not finish it to the point of trying to suck up every last drop. So on the flip side, a truly decadent and delicious treat is going to result in trying to consume every last calorie until alas you finally must admit that every bit is gone and your loud slurping must cease.
Another aspect to the jingle that I particularly enjoy is the element of stomping. It makes the jingle more tactile. Same with singing the instrumentals. But then again, that could just be me. After all, I do sing the entire opening song and instrumental portions of the Golden Girls theme song…
Every Kiss Begins with Kay – 2002
A bit on the nose and uber sappy, we have the Kay Jewelers song. It is technically a jingle because it is a branded song used in commercials to sell products. But it doesn’t quite have the entire “jingle” vibe as the songs from the 60s – 80s. Regardless, we will count it.
Kay Jewelers makes a very obvious play on spelling. Yes, every “kiss” does begin with “k” because that is how the word is spelled. The jewelry chain then takes it a step further by connecting that song with the imagery of a man buying a woman a piece of jewelry and she gives him a kiss in response, therefore implying that a person will for sure be kissed every time they give their significant other a jewelry piece from Kay Jewelers. For every kiss begins with Kay.
To me, this is lame. But you know who is getting the last laugh? Kay Jewelers.
A truly good advertisement and jingle is one that makes you remember the COMPANY. Think back to the Super Bowl LVII commercials. There were plenty of hilarious, sweet, and trendy commercials. But of those commercials, how many of them do you remember the actual company? I tend to get the car commercials mixed up, which actually is not a good thing because it means the car brands are not doing anything to make their brand stick out.
Compare this to the Snickers commercials from back in the day. I never confused those with Payday or Heath.
This takes me back to Kay Jewelers. While the jingle is totally lame and cheesy in my opinion, it is still a fantastic advertising vehicle because I unequivocally know it is Kay Jewelers, instead of Zales or Kendra Scott.
Check-into-Cash – 2004
Ugh. How many of you remember the check-into-cash jingle? “Cha cha cha Check Into Cash” with a jazzy bumpin’ beat in the background.
I had not been in the United States long when this jingle was playing every single commercial break, so I did not entirely understand the concept behind the company, but I sure as heck knew the company name. The song still gives me full-body cringe when I hear it.
But what does this mean? Everybody say it with me now. “If the jingle is annoying, then it is effective because you remember the company”.
Television theme songs are jingles too
Before the days of streaming, you couldn’t pause or fast forward TV. So TV shows would use their theme songs as jingles to make you remember to watch. I hinted at this earlier with Golden Girls.
Nowadays, not many shows have dedicated theme songs. Parks and Recreation, The Office, Brooklyn 99, The Good Place, Schitts Creek, The Great British Baking Show, The Morning Show, Ted Lasso, and Wednesday – none of these shows have actual theme songs. They have the same background music that plays that has become synonymous with the shows, but they do not have actual theme songs. What’s the point if people are going to skip anyway?
The relatively recent shows that do have theme songs use them in campy ways, like New Girl. (Which itself dropped the theme song part of the way through the series!)
With that in mind, let’s dive into some historical examples. I’m going way back, because you’ve probably heard the Friends theme song a million times by now.
H.R. Pufnstuf – 1969
H.R. Pufnstuf’s theme song is what inspired this entire post. My mom would sing this song all the time out of the blue. I always thought it was a jingle for some financial advisory company, figuring the mascot was a Puffin and the company was H.R. Puffin.
Before you watch the actual introduction, consider the below lyrics along with my thought that it was a financial advisor, law group, or perhaps an insurance broker. These lyrics are specifically what my mom would always sing, so it was the only part of the theme song I knew.
Who’s your friend when things get rough?
Can’t do a little cause he can’t do enough.
So now imagine my HORROR when I finally looked up the song on youtube.
Is this not the most horrifying introduction to a children’s show you have ever seen?
It honestly explains a lot about the second half of the Boomer generation. But damn if the theme song isn’t effective at lodging into one’s brain. Boomers remember this because the theme song and introduction was such a production, had colors and characters, and had a way to make a connection between the viewer and the show that – even as the children grew up to become somewhat adjusted adults – they still remember the song. They still remember the jingle. They are transported back to a simpler time. And they definitely remember the show because the title of the show is right there in the song.
Gilligan’s Island – 1964
This one is an easy one. The entire theme song sets the stage for the show, meaning viewers can watch a show regardless of where it falls in the season, and know what is going on. The song introduces all the characters, how they got to this island, and it centers upon a fan-favorite character, Gilligan, the dopey but lovable character that everyone remembers. Even those who remember Mary Ann aren’t going to say “you know, that show with Mary Ann.” No, they are going to remember Gilligan.
The Brady Bunch – 1969
And then we have the Brady Bunch. Their theme song was so iconic that it continues to be parodied today. The tune is simple, and catchy. Then you have the inclusion of the grid that slowly introduces the characters. Notice how the characters interact with one another like they truly see one another. It was very ahead of its time back in 1969. (No, kids, they’re not a Zoom call.)
And the template was easy to be recreated, as you can see in the below video. Each season was redone to show the aging process of the kids. You can also see, through hairstyles and clothes, just how quickly culture was changing at the time!
The template was also used with each Brady Bunch installment outside of the television series.
Brady Bunch Movie
And today it continues to be used for other advertising opportunities because it has become such a well-known theme song. The fact that the theme song can be parodied and recognized over 50 years after its show’s premiere tells you just how powerful the song is.
Jingles and theme songs – as we are used to thinking of them – have fallen out of style. But many of the companies that used this long-forgotten advertising pillar have stood the test of time in the minds of their target audiences. So much so that their jingles are being passed down through generations.
Hopefully this makes a comeback on social media in the near future. After all, we’re already bringing back the nineties and the aughts. Why not bring back the jingles too?