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What Is a Jingle?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 September 2014
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A jingle is a short piece of music that includes a slogan or product name. One of the earliest forms of modern advertising, the first famous jingle dates back to the 1920s. Used in advertising, jingles are meant to be extremely memorable, often using rhymes, melodic structure, and repetition to firmly cement both the song and the product advertised in a listener's head. Science has yet to discover exactly why jingles are such an effective advertising tool; what is clear is that the potent combination of simple music and careful wording can create an advertisement that continues to bounce around in a hearer's memory long after the commercial ends.

The history of the jingle begins with widespread radio broadcasting. In order to pay for production costs, radio stations began to sell advertising and sponsorship spots to advertisers. Early advertisements were often simple scripts read by the radio announcer during breaks in programming; this changed in 1926, with the introduction of the Wheaties Quartet. Employed by General Mills®, this famed singing quartet belted out a catchy tune about Wheaties®, a breakfast cereal. Thanks to a noted jump in sales following the release of the advertisement, the jingle quickly became a new staple in radio advertising.

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The structure of a jingle is very important to its success as an advertisement. Lyrics must be short and catchy, and they often use rhyme to incorporate the company or product slogan or tag line. Repetition of keywords or phrases is often used to ensure that the listener has no chance of missing the central point of the advertisement. The melodic structure is carefully developed to be memorable; ideally, the advertiser wants to get the song stuck in the listener's head.

Exactly why jingles work so well is a mystery that continues to elude science and advertisers. Evidently, certain musical note combinations, sometimes called “earworms” or “hooks,” allow the brain to create a memory loop. This loop requires the brain to repeat the musical phrases over and over in order to record it fully, sometimes expressly against the wishes of the listener. Any person who has ever ended up with a song stuck in their head has been the victim of a powerful, inexplicable musical hook.

A good jingle is an effective advertising tool because its may last far longer than the initial 30 or 60 seconds of an advertisement. If a musical hook successfully implants in a listener's brain, he or she may be more likely to repeat the words of the advertisement along with the melody. When at the grocery store or scanning the phone book, the listener may then be triggered to remember the jingle when he or she sees the product or company name. Ideally, the listener will then be more likely to buy a product because of the mental association created by the jingle.

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