Back when this blog first started, I intended to have my first post address the question, “where have all the jingles gone?” Feeling nostalgic in today’s world of viral marketing, I suppose I began to mourn the loss of advertising’s earlier “simplicity,” laden with corny lyrics and imagery that have come to shape my own personality and sense of humor (much to my chagrin of course).
Realizing the limits of my expertise in the history of advertising and the research necessary to do justice to the topic, I put the post on the back burner and blogged about something else. Well I still haven’t read Steve Karmen’s Who Killed the Jingle? – How a Unique American Art Form Disappeared, but I think it’s time to at least voice some thoughts and open up a discussion on the subject.
At first I thought a virus killed the jingle: our postmodern culture required we move away from the corny to the cool, get rid of those kiddy tunes and hit today’s tuned-out consumer with clever videos and special effects, or else with the ironic distance that is so hip nowadays, then get them to disperse the ad via social media. In essence: viral marketing. I couldn’t get out of my head the inherent differences between even the words ‘jingle’ and ‘viral’. One, friendly and singsong, frank in its nature. The other, harmful and corrupting, its true workings veiled. I saw it as a hostile takeover rather than the slow socio-cultural evolution it most likely was. Then something strange happened: McCann Erickson made this spot for Verizon:
Here, my two worlds collided. In fact, so many worlds collided with this spot. First of all, we have the return of not just the jingle as a motif and a format, but of a jingle – a classic jingle for Big Red that we all know (and love?). Second, this classic jingle is being parodied, though also mined for its nostalgic gold, ushering it into today’s postmodern advertising realm. Then you factor in that Big Red’s jingle is being re-appropriated by Verizon and things get really wacky. Just when I thought the jingle was back, I realized it’s just a kitschy take on the jingle, which, of course, has gone viral. But I suppose this is the only way for the jingle to survive in today’s world.
It makes me wonder what Verizon’s commercial is doing for Big Red’s sales. And if we shall soon witness an onslaught of advertising that plays on our nostalgia while simultaneously poking fun at it. I think we’ve always had a love-hate relationship with jingles. We, to some extent, love when they come on TV, perhaps because we can sing along, but we curse them when we’re still singing on the train, and in the bathroom, and at work, and while cooking dinner, etc. So maybe the jingle wasn’t killed by the viral. Maybe the jingle was the original virus. (Think about the catch-on effect of singing something like KitKat’s “Gimme a break,” or any one of the millions of jingles that were made to get stuck in your head and then become a shared experience). It makes sense: we, as viewers, built up an immunity to the jingle, thus the mutation into the viral ad campaign. I guess Verizon/McCann Erickson has managed to tap into the ideal niche then: a viral jingle. But since remakes or revivals of classic jingles probably have a very limited lifespan, maybe it’s a matter of simply updating our idea of what a jingle is. Perhaps Toyota has the answer: