Who created advertising jingles and why should we care?
Most historians say General Mills was the originator of the first real jingle, when it created a song to promote Wheaties back in 1926. Sales for the cereal had been suffering and General Mills was thinking of discontinuing it. But on Christmas Eve that year, radio listeners were treated to a new jingle called “Have You Tried Wheaties?” by the Wheaties Quartet. As a result, sales skyrocketed and Wheaties soon found its rightful place on the nation’s breakfast tables, where it has remained ever since.
Using the jingle which asked “Have You Tried Wheaties? ” allowed General Mills to skirt NBC’s prohibition of direct advertising at that time. (Advertising wasn’t allowed during the earliest days of radio from about 1922 to 1930.) Because it wasn’t a hard sell tactic – it was simply a question – the jingle was approved by the censors. General Mills was thus able to get the brand’s name embedded in the heads of potential customers without trying to actually sell it. Sneaky, eh?
Soon the jingle movement took off and hundreds of companies began trying this new approach to advertising. By the time of the economic boom of the 1950s, these catchy “mini-tunes” were reaching their artistic peak.
Here’s the Wheaties radio spot, followed by some more early advertisements, courtesy of “Aleena911” on YouTube.
Advertisers used jingles to promote all types of branded products, such as breakfast cereals, candy, soda pop, processed foods, tobacco and alcoholic beverages. Also jumping on the bandwagon were automobiles, personal hygiene products, and household cleaning products, especially detergent.
But as we moved into the Eighties and Nineties, advertisers began to move away from original jingles and began using popular recorded songs to promote their brands. Soon, the songs we sang along to on the radio began to be applied to products, crossing into the territory that jingles had once dominated.
That trend continues today, but interestingly, we may also be starting to see a resurgence of custom jingles. The reason – businesses are finding them to be a more affordable option for their advertising dollars. The costs of licensing preexisting music (such as those radio hits) has started to quickly push those tunes out of the reach of many companies.
“You can trust your car to the man who wears the star,
The big, bright Texaco star!”
“Everybody doesn’t like something, but nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.”
“Winston takes good, like a…Cigarette should.”
There’s a million of ’em. And there may soon be a million more on the way.
More to come,