Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Ears, worms and marketing

The following is a reprint of the Ad Nauseam column which appeared in the August 19, 2008 edition of the Metaverse Messenger.

Scrambled egg,
Sitting on the plate, you’re there to stay,
I know you won’t get up and run away,
Oh, how I love my scrambled egg.

I had a plan. It’s shot now, of course, but I actually had a plan. After broaching the subject of taglines last week I was going to look more closely at communicating with the customer. And then Phoenix Psaltery had to go and write about scrambled eggs in his music column.

Of course, he wasn’t writing about scrambled eggs as such; he was writing about the method Paul McCartney had used when composing “Yesterday,” which consisted of singing the phrase “scrambled egg” in his head as he wrote the tune. While Lennon and McCartney later decided to go a different direction with the lyrics, Phoenix decided to try his hand at creating something closer to the original, resulting in the verse at the top of this column. I suppose you could say it’s a Psaltery and McCartney composition. (Sorry, Phoenix, but it just doesn’t have the same ring as Lennon and McCartney.)

Anyhow, the point is that the tune Yesterday, accompanied by the words “scrambled egg,” has been running through my mind for a couple of weeks now.

There’s actually a name for this phenomenon. The Germans call it ohrwurm, which translates as “ear worm.” Most often it’s a tune, but it can also be a phrase or even a single word. Whatever its nature, the ear worm lodges itself into our consciousness and refuses to let go.

For advertisers, of course, this can be a godsend. A catchy tune combined with words which either directly or indirectly refer to the product can stick in listeners’ minds and carry the message continuously for weeks, months, or even decades. Sometimes it can continue to work long after the product is past its prime. I’ve not seen a Brylcream commercial for at least 30 years, but hearing Jessica Simpson say “just a little dab” while shilling for ProActive acne cream can bring to mind their jingle: “Brylcream, a little dab’ll do ya.” And while cigarette commercials are a thing of the past, I often hear, “Winston tastes good, like a cigarette should,” when people in a restaurant praise their food.

General Mills is given credit for creating the first modern advertising jingle with: “Have you tried Wheaties?/They’re whole wheat with all of the bran.” And although that came out in 1929, it was still popular enough in the late ‘50s that the tune comes back to me as soon as I read the words.

Back in 1929 General Mills was on the verge of dropping their Wheaties brand due to poor sales. With only 53,000 cases being sold a year, it seemed like a lost cause. However, when they discovered that more than half those cases were being sold in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the same area they were running a local radio campaign featuring their new Wheaties jingle, they decided to take the jingle nation-wide with the result that Wheaties became one of the most popular cereals in the country.

Sometimes a jingle can even make its way into the popular music scene

While stuck at the Shannon airport in Ireland in 1971 during a three-day fog delay, William Backer, vice chairman of Backer Spielvogel Bates, found himself inspired by the way the passengers on his flight “gradually shed their ethnic and national prejudices” as they grew into a little community. “Here were all these people from different places talking over cups of coffee and Cokes.” The result was the Coca Cola song, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing,” which made it onto the pop music charts.

But while effective, jingles have become a thing of the past. Any poll about the top ten jingles invariably shows that 80% - 90% are from 20 years ago, or more. ‘‘The 15-second commercial makes it harder and harder to make a musical statement that is more than a sung slogan,’’ Backer lamented back in 1989. And as recently as 2005, Eric Korte of Saatchi & Saatchi told the Boston Globe that “the jingle is dead.”

In its place, advertisers have been mining existing songs to plug their products. Debbie Harry’s “One Way or Another” accompanies a woman cleaning her floor with a Swiffer; Springsteen’s “Like a Rock” propels Chevy trucks across the screen; and a Jeep driver, accompanied by several woodland creatures, belts out “Rock Me Gently” as he tools down the road.

So why do I bring this up in a column on marketing in virtual worlds?

It all happened when I dropped in to visit my mother. She’s just turned 80 and is an active resident in Second Life. (Her avatar name is lillian Morpork — the last name taken from the Disk World Series, of which she’s a huge fan.) I was showing her a few tips and tricks and noticed that she had her speakers on. It struck me that if an 80-year-old woman is surfing the net with speakers on, surely almost everyone else is too.

And that means that every time they visit your store, they’re listening to whatever music you have streaming on the parcel.

So why not make it work for you? Obviously you don’t want to blast customers with a continuous jingle loop, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t intersperse your regular music with a commercial or two.

Like taglines, however, jingles can be tricky. The trick is to create something that is catchy yet directly related to your product.

Which is exactly what we’ll look at in next week’s column.

And until then, I’ll leave you with this little ditty which I hope will stick in Phoenix’s mind as thoroughly as his stuck in mine.

My bologna has a first name,
It’s O - S - C - A - R,
My bologna has a second name,
It’s M - A - Y - E - R,
Ooh, I love to eat it every day,
And if you ask me why I’ll say,
‘Cause Oscar Mayer has a way
With B - O - L - O - G - N - A


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