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Lament for the radio ad jingle

Boys listening to radio
Once heard, never forgotten - even if you're an easily-distracted youngster

The jingle used to rule the radio airwaves - an advertiser's secret weapon in the drive to sell, sell, sell. But just as Smashie and Nicey have been banished from the studio so the ad jingle is meeting its comeuppance, says Brian Hayes.

Early in my career on commercial radio in Australia I remember how jingles for soft drinks, petrol and toothpaste competed with the station's own identification jingles.

They were uplifting punctuations in any show and the best ones were arranged to suit the time of day as well as the product.

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"You'll wonder where the yellow went when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent", "things go better with Coke" and "go well, go Shell" remain with me to this day.

These are the exceptions, but even a half decent jingle heard on a breakfast show can stay with you all day... whether you like it or not.

I've recently reacquainted myself with some of the most infectious, for a programme celebrating the art of the radio advert. It took an intensive diet of Abba's Greatest Hits to rid my brain of the Ovaltinies jingle, a too memorable example of the genre.

In fact, anybody of a certain age will still be able to sing the League of Ovaltinies jingle, says Sean Street of Bournemouth University. He thinks it's "probably the most successful advertising jingle of all time".

And so it will remain, because in radio advertising today, the jingle is on its way out.

They are still used but not to the same extent as in the past. Ad people are always looking for new and different ways to make their commercials stand out.

In display advertising you will see a fad for a certain colour combination or a particular type of font but when it seems to be over-used, someone will notice and start using something else. Everything changes.

'Earworms'

"Jingles have almost been outlawed in advertising at the moment," says Andrew Ingram, co-author of Better Radio Advertising. "It's a slightly dirty word. Jingles are fantastically powerful, they do make you remember things.

Ovaltine poster from  1953
Jingle minded - the Ovaltine brand was built on the Ovaltinies

"The Germans have a lovely expression - 'ohrwurm' - which translates as 'earworm'- the idea that something goes into your ear and wriggles around in there and you have to use a hook to get it out. Jingles are like that, the most famous one on these islands is 'You can't get quicker than a Kwik Fit Fitter'."

But top ad maker Tim Delaney is one of those happy to sign the jingle's death warrant.

"They are kind of the lowest form of life," he says.

Nick Angell, who produces commercials, is almost equally as dismissive.

"The jingle is doh! - don't mention the jingle because they're very passe".

That doesn't mean all is lost. DJ Tony Blackburn is keeping the faith.

"Anyone who says jingles have had their day are completely mad, the jingle does work very effectively. The fact that I can't remember many commercials that we play nowadays but I can remember a jingle from the 60s that told me to start my day with Weetabix must say something."

So what has replaced the humble jingle on our airwaves? Tony Hertz, who came to the UK from the US in the early 70s to bring an American perspective to radio ads here, says the jingle's successor is the rather less romantically named "sonic brand trigger".

The Intel sound and British Airways use of opera music by Delibes are good examples of what he means.

Producer Nick Angell believes such devices are much more refined.

"We use carefully crafted or specially selected music to underpin a script or provide some sort of attachment to the product."

Poking fun

There's one device that radio ad creatives haven't given up on yet - comedy. Some of the best commercials using comedy were for Hamlet cigars - before they were outlawed in 2005.

Mr Delaney likes to use comedy because it brings perspective to a product. He used it to award winning effect in a commercial for Philips in 1982 which used the talents of comedians Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones. It poked fun at the British admiration for Japanese electronics at that time.

Remember the man who had a Hoki Koki 2000 television and wanted a videocaster with all the functions? He was shown a Philips (Firrips).

But some say that jokes are only funny the first time you hear them and so people wouldn't be bothered listening to them again. But the success of the 'Firrips' ad and others shows that isn't the case. Even Peter Sellers did some radio commercials.

He played all the roles in a very funny 'Mastermind' sketch for Camping Gaz, including Magnus Magnusson and contestants like Major Faucet Mildew. And the highly-praised American series of commercials called Real Men of Genius for Bud Lite beer, uses both comedy and jingles.

Radio commercials can lift your spirits with singalong jingles, they can make you laugh and they can drive you mad with lists of phone numbers and website addresses.

If you don't mind being shouted at, you are well catered for. As in all artistic endeavours there are very few "masterpieces", but you can't say they don't try to be noticed or aspire to greatness.

A lot of money is spent on making the ads, even more on placing them on radio stations, so it seems reasonable to assume that they make business sense. No one admits to having bought something because they heard it advertised - but, surely, the jingle works.

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