As a child of the 70s, I grew up enjoying what I think of as the golden age in television music – both in advertising jingles and as I see it theme songs and scores for the shows themselves. – much of it surviving and rebroadcast from the 50s and 60s.
Think of Coca-Cola’s iconic commercials. Think of Alka-Seltzer. Think of Wrigley’s gum.
Or think of Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn theme or Lolo Schifrin’s theme from Mission Impossible – still in use today Schifrin’s theme synonymous with the franchise – even for folks who recognize Tom Cruise but not Peter Graves (or Steven Hill).
Imagine Miami Vice without Jan Hammer’s score holding held its own against the popular music that Michael Mann also used.
Beginning in the 80s, pop music started to creep in replacing original composition – again, in advertising as well as programming.
While I never forget that one of the most respected men in Hollywood, Tom Hanks, basically got his start in drag on Bosom Buddies, I had forgotten that this show debuted in 1980 with a Billy Joel’s “My Life,” re-recorded by another group and singer.
I was reminded of this recently while listening to a “Town Hall” interview from 2014 with Joel on Sirius Satellite Radio, when Howard Stern asked him about it. While Joel didn’t go into depth and I’m sure he cashed the checks, he acknowledged it was a new concept for the time.
Probably haven’t seen the show since it originally aired, and not sure I could get through an entire episode, but while researching this post I did learn that the music was changed for its much of its syndication and the DVD release.
I’m reminded of a few other shows where the music changed between the times I saw them originally broadcast and later airings. I’ve always dismissed this is a financial/contractual move – why pay for the rights if a song is no longer how and relevant to the marketing? But I’ve also felt the brands were diluted by the loss of their original score.
Impressions are everything – can you imagine how cheated you’d feel if Mission Impossible lost it’s signature tune?
Side note concerning Bosom Buddies I’d forgotten that this period piece was about two men working in creative advertising, I guess the ridiculous first-season emphasis on them dressing in drag half the time is all that stuck in my adolescent brain.
Thinking back to shows from the 80s I’m struck by the proliferation of would-be sound-a-likes used to occasionally score Magnum P.I. – mostly evoking the Vietnam era.
Top of mind is a cover version of the Rolling Stones “Satisfaction,” which always falls flat.
Possibly the most guilty cover-band culprit was “Knight Rider” that relied on one cover after another, for its endless driving sequences (Ironic, considering Hasselhoff’s later career as a singer? Possibly.) To be fair, the list I found of songs featured on the show only mentioned two, but my memory suggests it was the norm not the exception.
At least while Miami Vice was laying Glenn Frey or Phill Collins under the action, they were using the musicians themselves in cameos, too.
While the pop music was taking over, there was still work for musicians recreating the songs – on the cheap, I suppose. But by the 90s, all bets were off with CSI’s use of remixed recordings by The Who for its series openers.
Today auto manufacturers seem to rely more on celebrity mugs than music, and honestly while I recognized Matthew McConaughey (mostly from Tropic Thunder) when he’s hawking cars, I never remember what cars he supposed to be hawking.
Some brands are still using their jingles, or are bringing them back during a retro-cool period in advertising (almost past, it seems), and many of these tunes have remained in our minds for a reason (if we were around in the 60s, 70s or 80s) tied to two things, as I see it – artistry and impressions.
This article by Steve Olenski on Forbes.Com talking about the emotional connection between music and brands “Why Music Plays A Big Role When It Comes To Branding” is worth a read though it’s less interested in the value of new and original music and proper pairing of popular music.
A lousy jingle or score will be quickly forgotten, but a good one will be used so often its etched in our brains. It’s this latter point I think is lost on the hipsters calling some of the shots today.
Perhaps jingles seem like quaint relics of a bygone era, but familiarity is a powerful force.
Here’s a collection of 18 spots compiled by American Music Concepts that should take you back – I don’t remember (probably for a reason) the longform McDonald’s ‘you deserve a break today,’ with the emphasis on cleaning the burger machine.
From a decade ago on the Branding Strategy Insider website, here’s a list of the 30 most influential jingles since 1948.
The methodology for building the list was simple: “400 taglines and jingles were sent to 100 advertising, marketing, and broadcasting professionals on both the client and agency side” for a vote on longevity, equity (have they become synonymous with a company or product), portability & ‘memorability,’ and originality.
I’m hard pressed to think of anything that could be added from the last two decades when we’ve seen the trend toward pop music marketing continue to dominate – think of Nike’s “Revolution” ad as one possible cornerstone
Ace Hardware, which is on the BSI list linked above, felt so attached to its jingle, that when trouble arose concerning sexism, “Ace is the place with the helpful hardware man,” was updated to “helpful hardware folk,.” This still sounds silly to my ear, but I accept in the politically correct age.
There are still jingle writers out there, and with the explosion in the number of media outlets I wonder whether there’s more or less opportunity than in the golden age, but most of the work is no doubt for exposure in smaller markets.
I hear custom jingles for local businesses from time to time in the Capitol District. Some are better than others. Many sound like the businesses that use them fail to take McDonald’s lead and keeping up with the times – so their advertising spots just sound dated.
In the age of Apple’s garage band software, and others like it – and stock music on tap, I guess the idea of writing a jingle, and keeping it current are nearly extinct. With this perceived loss however, I there’s a true loss of opportunity for brand recognition as well.