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March 6, 2003

Received in the mail
Posted by Teresa at 03:29 PM *

From John M. Ford:

A couple of weeks back The Economist took time out from its usual obsessions to report the demise of the advertising jingle (not on the obituary page, but in the conveniently adjacent Books and Arts section). It seems that the jingle has been displaced by pre-existing pop lyrics, hired for the occasion by people in advertising, which for reasons lost to history is known as a creative profession. We were told that Sting, who had once disdained to rent “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” to a deodorant manufacture, was now selling cars, happy as a clam with a royalty agreement.

But one wonders. The jingle, after all, was never about its content, even when it had any. Dr. Pepper arcanely displayed 10, 2, and 4 long after anyone remembered that those were desirable times to consume the product. Having a Break Today is far removed from the actual experience of ordering fast food. And, though it was a wellspring of parody, did anyone ever actually wonder where the damn yellow went?

A jingle was a pop tune in small, a memorable phrase, often rhythmic and sometimes actually sung, a meme by any other name. (Whether they actually sold any soap is beyond our brief here.) The new wave just attempts to eliminate the difficult steps of heating up a meme and serving it to an audience by the usual new-wave process of buying the package ready-made. And, as with the earlier habit of buying small, successful businesses and turning them into failed subsidiaries, context doesn’t matter.

Rocks in a state of nature are coarse, grubby, and difficult to handle when not completely immobile. Comparing your Chevrolet to a rock seems somehow unflattering. As for “Moondance”—well, that’s being used as background, telling us how much fun it is to be with your significant other in a car. In the front seat. With the three-point harnesses on and the air bags ready to fire.

It gets even weirder when one listens to the rest of the lyric attached to the hook. Gary Numan’s “Here in my car I feel safest of all” was, for anyone who missed the nuances, about urban paranoia, not safety, but we are now asked to feel warm and huggy about locking all our doors. And then there’s the USPS’s co-optation of “Fly Like an Eagle,” in which not one word of the remaining lyric can be quoted without blowing the gaff—“Till I’m free”? “House the people/Livin’ in the street”? Had those folks with the deodorant contract listened, even once, through “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”? The Nabokov bits too?

A few years ago, some high-school teachers were troubled by their administration’s attitude that the students might be picking up Bad Ideas from that rock music stuff. The teachers took the unusual step of trying to find out just what, exactly, was taking place. (No points for guessing what the administration wanted to do.) They asked for short essays about various popular lyrics of the moment, including “Born in the USA.” Springsteen’s song, the students said, was about, well … “being born in the USA.

Now, this wasn’t a scientific study, and anyone who has graded essay tests knows that parroting key phrases from the source is a standard tactic. Still, the teachers’ conclusion was that, far from being inculcated with the principles of red revolution, their students weren’t getting anything from pop lyrics except rote memorization.

One wonders how many of those kids wound up in advertising.
Comments on Received in the mail:
#1 ::: Rich McAllister ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 05:11 PM:

The one that croggles me is the Nissan ads that use "Won't Get Fooled Again". You'd think that title would be a reasonable clue that the song is unsuitable for selling things, but we see the Nissan SUV sliding across the desert to the sound of that great guitar/synth bridge, finishing with a pose in the middle of the screen just as you're expecting to hear "Meet the new boss - same as the old boss!"

#2 ::: Alison Scott ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 05:28 PM:

The only one I can think of for a major brand, at all, is:

"Dr. Pepper: what's the worst that could happen?"

But I have to mention 'possibly the worst radio jingle ever', made famous by Chris Tarrant: probably from the early 70s, but nobody is quite sure:

#3 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 08:21 PM:

Favorite bad choice: Target's use of "It's a beautiful world" for its commercials.

Mark Mothersbaugh couldn't understand why they chose it, but noted that the lyrics cut off before their ironc intent becomes clear.

#4 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 10:57 PM:

The basic theory of advertising is: create a positive feeling with your ad; then associate it with the product. The actual "message" of the ad is only vaguely relevant. For example, an ad campaign I always liked was Rainier Beer's '70s commercials. they had little to do with anything, but they were funny. Funny feeling --> Rainier Beer --> at store or bar, amusing recall of commercial --> buy Rainier Beer.
In the case of pop songs used as jingles, it's simply that the feeling of the song by Sting, Devo, Bob Seger, etc. creates a positive feeling in [some] listeners, and is then associated with Chevy, Target, etc. Plus there's the additional free spread of the song, now jingle, by oldies and "classic rock" stations. The actual lyric content of the song matters little.
Incidentally, I think the whole process of songs becoming jingles is sometimes more complicated than it seems. For exapmle, I believe the song "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" (originally a pop hit by the Seekers, then a Coke jingle) was originally an obscure Christian pop song that was adopted by Coke but then essentially back-sold as a pop hit before quickly being released as the Coke jingle. I would bet this occurs more often then is generally known. And I think Stevie Wonder must've figured one of the phone co.'s was bound to snap up "I Just Called to Say I Love You."
Let's not even talk about Moby and his relationship to commercials...
There was a slightly rambling but fascinating article in The Nation not so long ago by John Densmore, the Doors drummer, about how he resists the other 2 surviving members' entreaties to sell off the Doors catalog for commercials. (Legally they must all agree for this to happen.) Tom Waits wrote a letter detailing his own long lawsuit, finally successful, to keep commercials from using imitators of him.
Barry Manilow's work on jingles is well known, but did you know that the same guy who wrote "You Light Up My Life" wrote "Dr Pepper, so misunderstood..."?

#5 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: March 06, 2003, 11:57 PM:

My favorite use of an advertising jingle is "call me on the line" as a theme song for Verizon wireless a while back. I kept calling my dad's cell, which was on the plan, and being told he was out of range.

I also got put on hold once, to that song, for at least twenty minutes. But that's another story.

#6 ::: Josh ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 12:08 AM:

Stefan: not Volkswagen's use of Nick Drake's "Pink Moon"? Mmm, nothing makes me want to buy a convertible more than a song about nuclear war.

#7 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 12:54 AM:

Rocks in a state of nature are coarse, grubby, and difficult to handle when not completely immobile. Comparing your Chevrolet to a rock seems somehow unflattering.

And, if you've ever driven the vehicles that use the "Like A Rock" theme, it's very appropriate.

Josh: Really? Looking at the (scant) lyrics, I never would have figured that. I could see it, looking at the lyrics again...

I saw it written and I saw it say
Pink moon is on its way
And none of you stand so tall
Pink moon gonna get you all
It's a pink moon
It's a pink, pink, pink, pink, pink moon.

but I'd never figure it out without the artist saying so. I'd be completely unsurprised that the ad agency didn't know.

I thought the Volkswagon Cabriolet commercial was one of the most effective adverts I'd seen in ages. (For those who haven't seen it -- group of four, driving at night in the country, stars all around, while Mr. Drake's hypnotic tune plays. Finally, they arrive at thier destination -- a party. Bright lights, loud music, lots of people. They look at each other -- pull back out of the lot, and keep driving.)

My favorite? For Windows 95, Start Me Up. "You make a grown man cry...."

#8 ::: Greg van Eekhout ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 01:59 AM:

Pizza Hut's advertising firm hired the band Ween to come up with a new jingle to promote the pizza chain's innovative new cheese-inside-the-crust pizza. Their efforts were all rejected, but I kind of like them. (via Boing Boing)

#9 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 12:49 PM:

I've heard the Ween commercials, and they rock. Of course, why they didn't just buy the rights to that band's "Piss Up a Rope" is beyond me; maybe they held out for too much dough...

#10 ::: John K ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 01:49 PM:

Here's a perfect case in point: I believe Tommy Hilfiger (or was it Levi?) used CCR's "It Ain't Me" as background music for their patriotically-inspired jeans. The commercial showed your typical jeans/clothing ad people: young, 20-ish, athletic (various ethnic backgrounds represented, for a moment I thought it was Benneton) loaking around at what might be a Fourth of July picnic. The music and commercial cuts when the lyrics get to "red, white, and blue..." The imagery is undeniably patriotic.

For those who know, the song is not. (I'll assume you all know, but we'll sum it up inadequately by calling it an anti-Vietnam song) I find it amusing that the people in the commercial are perfect draft fodder (if there was such a thing these days).

Personally, I find commercials are the best thing on TV. Some are very well made. And I love picking apart ones that are poorly thought out, such as the example I spent too much time going over.

#11 ::: Cassandra Phillips-Sears ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 02:35 PM:

Erik: Do you know the name of that composer for the Volkswagon commercial? I loved that commercial as much for the music as for the images, and would love to hear more of his stuff.

#12 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 03:37 PM:

OBPopCulturePedant: The name of the song is actually "Fortunate Son," and it's possibly the least appropriate song ever for selling jeans, what with the lyrics running:

"Some folks are born made to wave the flag,
Ooh, they're red, white and blue.
And when the band plays 'Hail to the chief',
Ooh, they point the cannon at you, Lord,"

(At least, that's the first verse according to the first site google threw up which properly attributed it to CCR...)

In defense of the band, they don't control the rights to their own songs, and John Fogerty is pretty pissed off about the use of the song.

#13 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 06:00 PM:

I'd say "Fortunate Son" is one of the most patriotic songs I know. Dissent *is* patriotic. Not necessarily jeans-selling, though....

On the other hand, Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull reported awhile back on the website that he's pretty happy with the car commercial that used the flute bits from "Thick As a Brick." They left out all the lyrics on that one, including, of course, "Your sperm's in the gutter, your love's in the sink."

#14 ::: Josh ::: (view all by) ::: March 07, 2003, 08:05 PM:

Cassandra: the musician is Nick Drake, the song is "Pink Moon".

Erik: I wouldn't be surprised if the ad agency didn't know, but more likely they just didn't care. It's going to make for a bit of cognitive dissonance for anyone who does know about the song already, but it's also (and perhaps more importantly) evocative. Same with Nike's use of The Verve's "Bittersweet Symphony".

#15 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2003, 02:06 AM:

I think the biggest gaffe was when Microsoft did its "Where Do You Want to Go Today?" slogan over the music of Dies Irae from Mozart's Requiem Mass. The words which accompany the final blast of music are actually "confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis..." In English: "When the damned are confounded, and consigned to sharp flames..."

The Volkswagen commercials, however, are quite fun. The one I like best is the one that's basically a video for ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" that pretty much shows this guy with every humdrum day at the office until he realizes the sun is shining outside and it's a nice day.

Then for original jingles there's the Pepperidge Farms goldfish cracker lyrics "The snack that smiles back/Until you bite their heads off." I originally thought it was "and so you bite their heads off," but it is wonderfully perverse either way.

#16 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2003, 02:48 AM:

Note that the link in Chad's post also quotes from the Tom Waits letter I mentioned.

#17 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2003, 02:55 AM:

I hadn't known a about Fogerty and Wrangler, though I did know about his situation with his rights--about which he penned the song "Zanz Can't Dance" on the original pressing of his comeback LP, Centerfield, but was forced to change the title to "Vance Can't Dance" on subsequent pressings.
And let's not forget the Beatles' "Revolution" on the Nike ad...
Here's a link with the whole Waits letter and a link there to John Densmore's original article:

#18 ::: Helen Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: March 08, 2003, 09:06 PM:

On the one hand, I was delighted when All Things Considered played Coldplay's "Yellow" after announcing the change in our national alert status. In fact, I even declared that was my dream job.

On the other hand, Cingular's use of the soaring synth riffs of Talk Talk's eponymous 80s hit cracks me up, because it's about a man sick of hearing his lover's lies and excuses.

#19 ::: Kevin J. Maroney ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2003, 12:38 PM:

Just a footnote: Years-n-years ago, I read an article which brought up the use of the Beach Boys's "Good Vibrations" in Sunkist soda commericals. One of the Beach Boys said that he'd be perfectly happy to write new songs for commercials, but no one had ever taken him up on it; all the advertisers just wanted to license pre-existing songs.

(The article was long enough ago that I don't remember if the primary focus was on the Beach Boys or on music in commercials!)

#20 ::: Brian Bruxvoort ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2003, 10:36 AM:

Coming to this topic late, but I gotta mention Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" being used in some cruise line's ads and cutting out before the line: "Gonna beat my brain on liquor and drugs." Always brings a smile when I imagine the happy, vacationing yuppies of the ad turning their cabins into Hunter S. Thompson's Las Vegas hotel room.

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