Jingles & sound design: Changing my tune about music in advertising.

February 12, 2010

The music matters…

When I was coming up at Leo Burnett one of the creative leaders there was a man by the name of Jack Smith. At the time I didn’t much care for his idea of what comprised great creative. Primarily, because he was so fixated on music. Be it jingle or sound design, Jack was focused on delivering the magic via audio. For some of us this approach seemed hackneyed or, at best, a secondary concern. Those that knew… knew jingles were loathsome. Music was something you did in post.

Jack used to say good music could deliver bad film, or something similar. I thought he was crazy. To me, relying on music to “make” a commercial meant you didn’t have much of a commercial to make. Shooting and cutting film (so-called vignettes) to accommodate a music track was advertising at its worst. Ironically, my employer was known for doing just that. With clients like Kellogg’s, McDonalds and other big name packaged goods, music driven vignettes were the preferred form at Leo Burnett. And nobody did ‘em better. To be sure, a lot of agencies tried: DDB, JWT, TLK to name a few… My point? It felt like I was a minority, turning my nose up and ears off.

That said, you can’t work at Burnett as long as I did and not learn the form. Before my tenure was over I’d written several jingles as well as scored popular music for a Heinz TV commercial. Remember John Astley’s minor hit, Jane’s getting Serious? Listen for it in the spot below. Yes, that’s Joey from Friends. Laugh all you want. That spot won me a Gold Lion at Cannes. Only recently have I come to realize how important the music was in “making” the commercial. I’ve also come to realize Jack was really on to something.

Music matters.

While I still find most jingles distasteful, it’s clear music & sound design is profoundly important to the integrity (and popularity) of a commercial piece of film. Let’s look again at Heinz Catsup. Years before my spot, they’d ran a campaign using songstress, Carly Simon’s breathless hit, Anticipation.

Undoubtedly, you remember the campaign. The song perfectly seized upon a great truth about the brand: it took damn long to pour but was worth the wait. Most of us can place the song with the brand. The marriage was almost iconic. But can any of you recall the commercial itself? Not for the life of me. Only the music endures.

Fact is music has more staying power than film. Think about it. Most people watch even the greatest movies only once…maybe twice. Meanwhile, we may own thousands of songs, listening to many of them daily. Jack knew this, which is why he was so passionate about using music in commercials. Whether it’s a screw in the brain or an awesome classic: music got hooks!

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Sound design: Cliff Colnot


11 Responses to “Jingles & sound design: Changing my tune about music in advertising.”

  1. Gene Payne said

    I, too, turned up my nose at jingles earlier in my career. Surely Tom McElligott would never write a jingle. Chiat Day’s Christmas card even proclaimed, “We don’t do jingles.” But then I found myself working on Sears during the “Softer Side” era. The ECD’s notion that “if you can’t sing it, we can’t sell it” proved to be true, at least for a time. If you wanted anything to show for your efforts other than a stack of dead boards, you best get on board. And so I did…we produced numerous tracks for numerous spots, the focus groups — and the client and Ad Age — raved, etc. No lives were lost.

  2. Andy Webb said

    You’ll wonder where the yellow went
    when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.

    This jingle has remained lodged in my brain since childhood.

    Humans are creatures that respond to music.

  3. Ron Huey said

    Music can always elevate an idea, as long as it’s not trying to be the idea. “You really got me” took the Nissan ‘toys’ spot to another level. But the idea was already great. Cutting orange juice vignettes to “It’s a beautiful morning” does not qualify as an idea. Well, I guess it does, just not a good one.

  4. SRP said

    Here’s the other less famous spot from the campaign I wrote, though it got bronze at Cannes.

  5. Des said

    In the second Heinz spot all the characters are behaving like they’re on drugs. All with the exception of the old ladies who are understandably appalled by this young man. The knowing look he shares with the cook is questionable. And the waitress loses all composure when the catsup hits the burger.

    It’s early, but this is still the best thing I’ve seen all day.

  6. Great post. As someone who owns a music company that creates original music for advertising as well as music supervision, it’s VERY encouraging to hear people still feel that original songwriting and jingles is such a powerful ingredient to a campaign or spot.

    Over the last 5 years I hear constantly that licensing is taking over since it’s become far more cost-friendly, and to be honest necessary, for bands and artists to get placed on multiple media sources. There’s no doubt that this is true, and a result of the fall of radio as an outlet for bands to be discovered.

    However, there is still so much value in creating a new piece of music or audio that works with and for a brand.

    There’s so much more to be said, and I would hope that the scope of quality work that is still out there on air, on micro-sites, on radio, and just about everywhere else is a testament to this.

    As I am creating my new site, which will be crafted to not only work as a place to view my reel and get my address, but as a communal music blog, it’s encouraging to read posts like this.

    Rock on.

  7. BLKHorse50 said

    Did this advertising agency copy Independent songwriter’s video for AT&T spot?


    you make the call!??

  8. […] Advertisers have long known music’s magical power, which is why music is such a critical part of so many campaigns. For better or worse, if a tune transports someone to a brand and makes an indelible connection that’s kismet: whenever we hear the music we feel the brand. I’ve written about music and marketing before, in particular the love/hate relationship we have with jingles.. […]

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