Jingles Singles by
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For whatever reason — probably because of my high NQ (nerdiness quotient) — I have always been fascinated with commercial jingles.  Actually, my brother may have been my main influencer on this.  He explained that many songwriters, simply to make a living, had to “debase” themselves into writing these ditties.

For whatever reason -- probably because of my high NQ (nerdiness quotient) -- I have always been fascinated with commercial jingles.  Actually, my brother may have been my main influencer on this. 

But, as I considered it further, I realized that in many ways writing a good commercial jingle is more difficult than writing a good pop song.  First of all, the writer has, at most, sixty seconds to get his/her tune and lyrics out there; even in Top Forty days, virtually all pop songs were at least two minutes long.*  And the message that the jingle writer is trying to deliver is typically a whole lot more prosaic than true love and/or eternal heartbreak — think of yellow teeth or acid indigestion.  Finally, the jingle has to convincingly deliver that message, at least in the minds of the clients’ ad execs who decide whether to buy it or not. They have no interest in paying for “B-side tunes” that they feel won’t move the product.  Especially since their own jobs are on the line, too.

On the bright side, as I also learned from my brother, are the residuals.  I do not consider myself to be money-obsessed, but the idea of what are sometimes called “toll gate payments”  — payments made simply for every repeated use of something — has always had an appeal to me.**    So forget Top Forty hits that may stay on the charts for at most ten weeks.  A commercial jingle that runs on both network and local stations 24/7 for an ad campaign of a year or two can create a real residual windfall, even if the individual payments are relatively small.

But enough of my obsession with these aspects of commercial jingles. I want to focus on another one: jingles that were so catchy that they later were released as stand-alone pop songs. I figure that the writers of those jingles must have felt as if they had just hit a grand slam home run.

I can think of two examples (and welcome recollections of others).  Most notable was Coca-Cola’s famous “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” which can be viewed and listened to here.  And the story behind writing that song can be found here.   It is both a catchy tune and a truly feel good message, so its repurposing as a pop song should not be that much of a surprise.

And then there was Alka-Seltzer’s “No Matter What Shape” commercial, which can be viewed and listened to here.  As I recall, when it was released as a pop song, it was expanded a bit in length and given fuller orchestration, but remained an instrumental  — a rare exception for Top Forty pop songs. (Think — or hum — “Classical Gas” or “Love Is Blue.”)

One variant on this theme is the pop song that later resurfaces as part of a commercial jingle.  Probably the best known example of this is “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” which was originally recorded by the Miracles, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knights and the Pips, and then commercialized by the animated California Raisins here.  Again, a very catchy tune, but its lyrical connection to an agricultural collective is pretty tenuous, save for the grapevine itself.

But, in my opinion, the best re-use of an existing song was in a Ban Deodorant commercial from the early 60’s.  In fact, everything about that commercial was brilliant.  It was a montage of short, gritty black and white verite clips of people crowded together — especially in New York subway stations —  in a style that foreshadowed MTV music videos of the 80’s.  And the music was from Bernstein’s Jets and Sharks fight (really a dance) from “West Side Story.”  At the end of the commercial, the words “Ban takes the worry out of being close” were either spoken or written; no other words were used.  Oddly, I cannot find the commercial itself online: but here is the full, electrifying dance scene from the musical.

OK, class, end of today’s lesson in Jingles 101. But I hope I’ve left you with enough great earworms until next week.


*I believe the world’s record for shortest Top Forty #1 song is “The Letter” by the Box Tops, quickly delivered from Canada in only one minute and fifty eight seconds.

**Indeed, I remember a number of years ago one of my lawyer colleagues told me that his family had property in the resort area of the Dominican Republic and sold some of it to the government for the building of a new airport. He confided in me that, under the terms of the sale (negotiated by his very shrewd father, also a lawyer), every time a plane took off or landed at that airport, they were due a payment.  He added that he loved practicing law (and is still practicing today), but that he also loved going down to their home in DR and just listening to all the planes coming in and flying out.  Ka-ching!

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Characterizations: funny, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Thank you for your thoughts on the difficulty of writing a good, catchy, advertising jingle. We obviously shared the same thought about the iconic Coca-Cola one (as you will read). You will have to teach me how to link to YouTube. I really tried with Good and Plenty, but couldn’t figure it out.

    And for the record, Love is Blue and Classical Gas were among my all-time favorite tunes of my high school era (my husband still cites Classical Gas as one of his). So thank you for mentioning those. They may not be advertising jingles, but they were classics of the ’60s.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Betsy. And yes, the Coca-Cola jingle/song certainly caught us both. Also agree about the two instrumental tunes and, when you think about it, their music had to capture you because their lyrics obviously wouldn’t.

      Incidentally, I’ve been able to link to YouTube just via the clips’ URLs, as with other links. I can assure you that, with me, no technical genius was required.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    Thanks for this trip down memory lane, John. I’m embarrassed to confess how much I still love the coke jingle and its extended version. It might be a good idea to play that these days. We could use a good message.

  3. Suzy says:

    Love this, John. Great minds think alike, at least some of the time. Glad to learn the history of the Coke jingle, and nice job with your links using the word “here”! Too bad you couldn’t find the Ban Deodorant commercial; I don’t remember it and would have liked to see it. Also appreciate your observations about residuals, and the Dominican Republic story.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks much, Suzy. And our minds certainly were thinking alike on this one. And I sure did try to find the Ban commercial, but without success. My (lawyerly) mind suggests that the owners of the rights to West Side Story might have been reluctant to have this out in the public domain for all posterity.

  4. Jeff Gerken says:

    I loved the references to the songs and jingles in this story. But it triggered in my mind “The Girl from Ipanema”. I seem to remember a commercial that used that song, but can’t find it using the Google machine. Is that just in my head?

  5. Marian says:

    Great insight into the dollars and cents aspect of the business, John, thank you! And of course I enjoyed reliving the jingles and songs. Thanks for the links.

  6. Wow to you too John! As you often do, you’ve given us quite a brief on the subject of this week’s prompt!
    And hearing anything from West Side Story is always a delight, thanx!

  7. A thoroughly enjoyable story, John! Your musings made me think of the Charlie Sheen character on the sitcom “Two and a Half Men,” a hedonistic jingle writer who evidently made enough dough to buy a beachfront house in Malibu. Really? That’s a lot of residuals! Oh, wait…that’s Hollywood.

    And speaking of pop songs that resurface as commercial jingles, how about Love Sick by Bob Dylan (who also makes an appearance) for Victoria’s Secret: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QsFrFQ-F64Y. Love him, love the song, but it’s pretty creepy, because of the way he looks, and especially because it looks like he’s singing to/about someone of a wildly inappropriate age. I guess he needed the money.

    There’s another ear worm for you.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Barb. I never watched “Two and a Half Men” closely enough to know what Charlie did for a living, but it sounds right. And thanks for the cool but creepy Dylan song. And if Dylan can sell out for commercials, then so can anyone.

    • Jeff Gerken says:

      I had never seen that Victoria’s Secret commercial – they don’t seem to advertise much on MSNBC. I suspect that Dylan does not really need the money, but it’s entirely possible that he wanted the money. One of my, and John’s, college classmates negotiated across the table from Mr. Zimmerman for the very first commercial use of one of his songs, “The Times They Are a-Changin'”. I don’t remember what the commercial was for, but it was prior to our 25th reunion in 1996. He told me at that reunion that Bob “knows where every penny is” when it comes to his wealth.

      • John Shutkin says:

        I wasn’t aware of our classmate’s negotiations, but that is cool. Closest I got to that was when I was an attorney for KPMG and was involved in the negotiation of Phil Mikelson’s sponsorship deal; you will still see a “KPMG” on his visor every time he plays (it’s required under the contract). And I also had some dealings with Prince when he was a KPMG client; we needed to insert a glyph on the computers in our Minneapolis office to match his when he became “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince” or he would not answer our letters. And he, too, knew where every penny of his was.

      • And of course there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that seeing the ads feels off-brand and somehow disappointing. Now, Erik Estrada selling real estate, that’s different.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    The music from this series of ads has stayed in my head for decades!

  9. Risa Nye says:

    John, this was so much fun to read. And a further note about the California Raisins: the kid at the end? My son’s voice! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UR0-AkwagCk

  10. Wow, John, what a tour de force! A jingle survey, theory and practice. It was fun to read and you struck many a familiar chord. I have been an ad analyst forever. They often reflect the culture more effectively than the content of the shows they bracket. And always amazed to see who they’ll co-opt next. Recently I’ve heard and watched jingles using Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. Go figure!

  11. A lot of enjoyable tidbits there (and earworms). Since you like music trivia, did you know the lead singer for the Boxtops’ “The Letter,” the guy with the rough, experienced-sounding voice, was 16 year old Alex Chilton, a high school student?
    As to repurposing pop, there is a current ad for a drug (a memory drug I think but I don’t quite remember tee hee), that uses a pretty decent lick from 1975 by Pilot https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MzlK0OGpIRs

    p.s. I am not ready to believe that anyone negotiated a deal to pay someone a licensing or royalty fee each time an airplane took off or landed!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Dale. For some reason, I knew the lead singer was named Alex Chilton and he was pretty young. That said, Janis Ian was 14 when she recorded “Society’s Child” and let us not forget “Little” Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson during his Jackson Five days.

      As to the fee agreement, you may believe it or not, but it exists. It is with the Punta Cana International Airport Authority and my friend’s father who negotiated it was a very prominent New York attorney and mediator. There is nothing particularly unusal about such legal arrangements other than the fact that I don’t often know any parties to them.

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