Sometimes it just bores into your brain. You can’t shake it, shoo it, shun it.
That’s what happened to Jason Cordova three years ago, when he took over his then-ailing father’s Niagara Falls company. A fit former Army captain with windswept short brown hair and the soft facial features of a “Friends”-era Matt LeBlanc, Cordova, 40, is strong, disciplined. Someone who can control what does – and doesn’t – get inside his head.
But it turns out Cordova’s military trained-brain works just like the rest of ours, and here’s a thought he couldn’t shake: Nobody seemed to realize his dad’s product belongs in the same light as wings, weck and sponge candy. Original Pizza Logs – the food produced by his family’s company, Finger Food Products Inc. – are a Western New York creation.
Cordova wants you to know that, so he decided to take action. He decided to get stuck in your head.
He decided to make a jingle.
Lest you click off the commercials, it’s nearly impossible to listen to the radio or watch TV without hearing a jingle. By most accounts, you’re not hearing them more. “It doesn’t appear that there is a greater call for jingles right now,” said Marlene Bartos, president of the Association of Music Producers, whose sentiments were echoed by every local radio executive contact for this story.
But still, those darn jingles are everywhere. Try reading this entire story without getting a song stuck in your head. Or better yet, try this: Stop reading, and sing the first several words of the Cellino & Barnes injury attorney song to whomever is nearby. (We’d tell you the words, but you probably know them already.) You won’t have to sing the phone number at the end of the jingle; the people around you will be able to fill it in for you.
Tired of Cellino & Barnes? No problem. Pick any well-known jingle. It’ll work.
“When jingles are done well, they stick with you,” said Buffalo Advertising Management owner Debra Horn Stachura, who estimates about a third of her clients use jingles.
Horn’s go-to man for customized songs is Ken Kaufman. He’s the king of Western New York’s jingle writers, a group small enough to fit in a single car. (Meet other locally based jingle composers in the sidebar that accompanies this story.) He’s also the likely guy to blame if you get a jingle jammed in your brain. Go ahead, sing a locally famous jingle – “Tops Never Stops Saving You More,” “Dress up your home for less, FWS,” “Valu has everything you need,” “Get that City Mattress feeling everyday,” “Welcome to West Herr New York,” and even the ubiquitous Cellino & Barnes song (the original, not updated, version). Chances are good that Kaufman wrote it sometime during his 40-year career.
On a recent day at his second-floor studio inside Entercom Communications’ Amherst office, Kaufman, 65, was wearing a charcoal jacket over loose-fitting pants and shirt. His gray hair was slightly tousled, befitting his rock roots. (Kaufman was a member of the legendary Buffalo band The Road when, in 1975, a friend asked him to help write a jingle for an Oldsmobile dealership. “The money was good,” Kaufman recalled, “better than rock and roll.”)
At the center of his cluttered desk is a French press filled with the green leaves of yerba mate, an antioxidant-rich tea that enhances focus and endurance, and a candy cane-striped plastic cup printed with the words “Jingle All The Way.” Behind Kaufman is a Mac loaded with Pro Tools, the editing software of choice in the music industry. Surrounding him is an array of microphones and instruments (he saves drumming sessions for after 5 p.m. to go easy on the folks in the accounting offices below him) and walls filled with inspirational quotes from Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Ayn Rand, Steven Covey and George Carlin.
“Kaufman means salesman,” he says, spinning the German translation of “kauf,” which is “purchase.” “I think everybody is a salesman. I think we’re always selling, all the time, to each other. If we’re communicating, we’re selling.”
In selling his jingles, Kaufman has nearly cornered the Western New York market. He has a tidy arrangement with Entercom, which owns seven AM and FM stations including sports station WGR, talk radio WBEN and Top 40 pop station Kiss 98.5. The station provides him studio space; Kaufman, in turn, gives Entercom clients a $1,500 discount off the $6,450 sticker price of a single jingle. While he’s not buried in the art of jingle-making, Kaufman doesn’t have to chase down clients, either. Entercom sales staff brings them to his studio door.
That’s what happened with Jennifer Kuhn, marketing director for her parents’ company, Hamburg Overhead Door. Kuhn – and her mother, who did marketing before her – resisted getting a jingle for years. “It didn’t seem like something that fit a company that sells garage doors,” Kuhn said.
Finally, in 2011, Kuhn’s Entercom sales rep convinced her to try a jingle at no cost, unless she chose to buy it. So Kuhn met with Kaufman and explained what she wanted to accomplish: Since garage doors are not an everyday purchase, her goal was to create “top-of-mind awareness.” That way, when someone’s garage door breaks, their first instinct is to call Hamburg Overhead Door.
And then there was the challenge of the company name: “Hamburg” is indicative of the company’s Southtowns location, but doesn’t suggest that they’ll deliver everywhere in the region. So the jingle needed to convey that message, and do it to the company’s target market – women – while being playable on multiple stations. “We needed something that was not too harsh, not too rock, not too country,” Kuhn said.
Now it was Kaufman’s turn. He crafted a bouncy, light composition with a keyboard-driven melody and vocals by Emily Kearns, a 36-year-old opera-trained singer who, like Kaufman, lives in Lockport and works with him on numerous jingles and church gigs. As for the geographic misperception, that was handled through lyrics written by Bob Davis, an independent marketing consultant who frequently works with Entercom and Kaufman. Davis wrote the tagline which Kearns then sang: “Hamburg Overhead Door: Over-delivering all over Western New York.” (Another version includes the line, “From the Southtowns to the Northtowns, and everywhere in between.”)
Problem solved. But was the jingle effective?
Anecdotally, yes, but as Kuhn and other jingle clients acknowledge, hard data is difficult to attain. Though Hamburg Overhead Door’s gross sales have risen since the 2011 release of the jingle, Kuhn is quick to point out, “I wouldn’t word it as ‘profits,’ because profits are tied to many more things in business than marketing.”
So here’s the question that REALLY lets you know if a jingle is working: Do people sing it to you? Do people complain about it?
The answers are yes and yes. Kuhn has had people at trade shows approach her booth singing the jingle. A guy from Canada emailed her asking for the song. (He liked it so much, he wanted his own copy; Kuhn declined.)
And yeah, people occasionally complain.
“I do get some criticism, and that’s OK too,” Kuhn said.
Yep. It’s in their heads
Jingle writers are essentially musicians-turned-marketers, a role Kaufman takes seriously. He’s passionate about free enterprise; it takes little prodding to get him steamed over Obamacare or high taxes on business. “When you set up your own business and use your own creativity to position yourself in the marketplace, and you reap the benefits of that business,” he said, his long piano-player fingers gripping his forehead. “I think you have every right to keep those profits. And frankly” – Kaufman punches his index finger into the air – “I begrudge a government that thinks we ought to be … ”
He stops, cutting off his thought.
“Nevermind,” he said. “Don’t get me going.”
Kaufman would rather talk about his clients – like Cordova, whom he met in June. Cordova was anxious to launch a marketing campaign that branded Original Pizza Logs as a Western New York product. “It was driving me crazy that nobody knew pizza logs were from Buffalo,” said Cordova, who set up sponsorships with the Bills and Sabres and prepared to launch a series of radio advertisements. His Entercom sales rep, Mark Walter, suggested commissioning a jingle. The Cellino & Barnes song immediately popped into his head. “I’m not saying I love that one,” he said, “but it’s on the radio constantly. So my initial thought process was that a jingle is probably the right thing to do.”
Enter Kaufman, who visited Cordova’s plant and was taken aback. Cordova was using pricey mozzarella and Hunt’s tomatoes, the same brand Kaufman’s wife, Michelle, uses in her own spaghetti sauce. “My wife is Italian; she doesn’t skimp when making sauce,” Kaufman said. “He’s buying the same stuff.”
Cordova was Kaufman’s kind of guy. “To me, it’s a question of integrity,” Kaufman said. “He’s putting out an honest product, a high-quality product. He’s an example of the best of free enterprise.”
What drives Cordova is the need to carry on the legacy of his father, Robert, who died at 66 in October 2013 of nonalcoholic cirrhosis, despite “never drinking a drop of alcohol in his life,” his son said. Robert Cordova was a passionate fan of jazz music, especially Herb Alpert and Chuck Mangione, so his son asked Kaufman to include a jazz element in the jingle.
Kaufman complied, melding a swing tempo with a doo-wop vibe and brush drums. He hired Kearns, a Lockport resident, to sing all four parts of a barbershop quartet-style harmony, recorded and mixed it all, then called Cordova to his studio. Cordova showed up for the first listen with his wife, Jessica, and sat anxiously as Kaufman explained the elements of the song and encouraged the couple to listen several times.
Cordova, meanwhile, was thinking, “Hit play! Hit play!” This was his business, and his dad’s legacy, about to be captured in a song. He wanted to hear it.
Finally Kaufman clicked play. Thirty seconds later, the Cordovas burst out in smiles.
“That’s a slam dunk,” Jason Cordova said to Kaufman. “You knocked it out of the park.”
But that was only in a studio. The real test comes when it hits the public. And Cordova quickly learned that his jingle was, indeed, a stuck-in-your-brain winner. In the months, since its release, local orders increased by a healthy 5 to 6 percent. But more notably, people started noticing the product for what it was – a Western New York food. He heard it from friends. He heard it from a truck driver who claimed he couldn’t get the jingle out of his head.
He even heard it from a Pro Football Hall of Famer. At a Buffalo Bills game, Cordova was in the Jim Kelly Club, dressed in a shirt with his company logo, when he ran into a sturdy, 60-something man with a towering forehead and squinty eyes. Cordova recognized him instantly: It was Joe DeLamielleure, the team’s legendary offensive lineman who cleared the way for O.J. Simpson’s storied runs. DeLamielleure pointed to the logo on Cordova’s shirt and spontaneously broke out in song: “Put down the burger, put down the dog. Pick up the Original Pizza Log!”
Joe D couldn’t shake it either, which means just one thing: The jingle stuck. Not even a Hall of Fame blocker could block it out.