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An author argues that jingles are dead

Jingles are dead.

Not everyone will agree with him, but that’s the belief of Joel Beckerman, author of The Sonic Boom (2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt).

Beckerman doesn’t think music is dead. Quite the opposite: He’s a longtime composer for television shows and the founder of Man Made Music, which specializes in “sonic branding” for businesses.

“Sound evokes really powerful moments in an instant,” said Beckerman, whose concept of sonic branding includes everything from the overhead music a business plays in a retail store to the split-second tones you’ll hear when using an app.

But repetitive jingles, he says, are “manipulative” and off-putting to consumers. Instead, Beckerman advises, business should consider using a specific sound (a gavel in a lawyer ad, for example), licensing an original song (even one from a local band, which could be more affordable) or, if money allows, creating a full-length “anthem” over a jingle. (A Buffalo example is “Healthy Changes Everything,” a song released by BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York and written by Tom Merrick, a senior executive with the insurer’s agency of record, Eric Mower and Associates.)

Where jingles focus on repetition, Beckerman said, “anthems are really about meaning.”

Q: Can any business develop a sonic strategy?

A: The short answer is yes, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a lot of money the way Coca Cola does. A lot of times it may be looking at elements that are available in the public domain or using sound-effect sounds. If you have a spa, and all the other spa businesses in Buffalo are using new age music, how could you get the same feeling across using different instrumentation? Maybe it’s really, really cool, interesting, quiet ambient rock. There may be different ways you can differentiate yourself from everybody else.

Q: Where do jingles fit in?

A: There are exceptions that prove every rule. But for the most part, jingles are dead. The world of jingles, that does not work anymore, unless it’s a jingle that is already in people’s minds, (such as) “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.” They have that longevity because they’ve been using it for 40 years. There’s something about the brand that ties into legacy, that stands the test of time. But for the most part, jingles are dead.

Q: Why are jingles dead?

A: For a number of reasons. First of all, the vast majority of jingles in the past have (been based on the idea that) “People will remember our product name if we just sing it to them.” People not only tune it out; they hate it. They realize it’s manipulation. They realize you’re trying to crawl inside their brain. Nobody wants to be sold anymore. That’s really the essence of it. It’s not like we need more sound in our lives. We’re actually completely overrun with sound.

Q: So the ubiquity of media today has changed our tastes?

A: Twenty, 30 years ago, even 10 years ago, it might be enough to have that little earworm stick in our ear from a jingle. Now, especially because we’re in this multi-platform digital mass media culture, we’re completely over-whelmed with input all the time. We tend to tune those things out. But if you have sound and music that is meaningful, that’s something you let in. That’s why Disney keeps using “When You Wish Upon a Star.”