The curious death of the advertising jingle

TV ad breaks used to be full of jingles. If we weren’t being told that Chesdale Cheese had a mighty taste, we were humming along to the origin story of the Mazda Wonderlight. Such is the power of these ear worms that, several decades later, I can still sing all the words. I bet I’m not alone.

It wasn’t just a Kiwiana thing. Over the Tasman, Mo and Jo built an agency on the back of insanely catchy, singalong ads. Feel like a Tooheys, anyone?

Yet the jingle seems to have died a death, on TV at least. Why?

Yes, they are corny and old-fashioned – but that’s a description, not an explanation. Why do ad campaigns no longer harness the power of a catchy song that turns passive listeners into helpless repeaters of your product’s selling points?

Advertising agencies used to be filled with frustrated poets and songwriters who would pen rhyming couplets or pick up a guitar as soon as they received the brief. Is a change in the creative ecosystem the reason for the death of the jingle?

I don’t think so. For every frustrated lyricist in the 1970s there’s a part-time hip-hopper in 2013. Why isn’t some of this musical creativity being channelled into ad jingles?

Is it simply that we grew up and now feel vaguely embarrassed about those cheesy old ads that made a song and dance about the product? That might be nearer the mark. Jingle-driven ads didn’t win too many creative awards, and their creators aren’t spoken of in the same breath as Bernbach and Hegarty.

And yet…the ads above made a lot of brands famous. Their melodic patter lingers in the minds of those who grew up with them. People will happily sing along to their product claims many years after they first heard them. Isn’t that the very definition of consumer engagement?

Some day soon, someone is going to write an original song that makes a brand famous, drives sales skywards, and has schoolyards around the country singing along with it. It will be a modern-day jingle.

Even if they call it something else.