How The 80’s Ruined Everything: Part II – Bring Back The Jingle

If you live in Los Angeles, you will recognize these taglines immediately:

1. “I’ll fight for you.”

2. “Sit ‘n Sleep will beat anyone’s advertised price, or your mattress is FREEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!”

3. “You’re killing me Larry!”

You might smile or grimace when you hear them, but there is no mistaking the advertiser, what they are selling and why you should buy their products.

For my friends living outside of Los Angeles, these mainstays of our local broadcasts are (1), The Law Offices of Larry Parker and (2 & 3), Sit N Sleep Mattresses.

Larry Parker was one of the first personal injury lawyers to advertise on television and adopt a direct advertising approach. Another Larry, Larry Miller, is the co-founder, along with his brother Phil, of the Sit N Sleep chain of stores. He’s a genial, squeaky voiced, chubby, now middle-aged man who raises the pitch of his voice to a falsetto and gestures with glee and gusto as he makes his low price promise.

Irwin is Larry’s fictional accountant and co-star in radio ads. As Larry raves about great deals and low prices, Irwin frets about profits. Each spot ending with Irwin whining the now famous catch phrase, “You’re killing me, Larry.”

These campaigns are unlikely to win Clios or gain entry to the Advertising Hall of Fame. They lack nuance and sophistication. The TV spots are visually bland and shot on the cheap. Yet they are incredibly successful. Each has been around for at least 20 years, and both businesses continue to grow.

The slogan of old Benton & Bowles agency, long a stalwart on the P&G roster, was, “It’s not creative unless it sells.”

Modern ad men and women will pay lip service to this credo, but in reality, they don’t get raises or better jobs for selling stuff. It’s all about the awards and the cool factor of their work. If a writer walked into Crispin Porter with a Larry Parker ad on his reel he wouldn’t get past the receptionist.

This irony is all too well understood by my friend Bruce Silverman, who created the Larry Parker campaign in 1987. Not that he’s walking into Crispin Porter or anywhere looking for a job. Trained under the auspices of the great David Ogilvy himself, Bruce created the legendary “Don’t Leave Home Without It” campaign for American Express while at Ogilvy & Mather. He’s run creative departments for big agencies in New York, London, Houston and Los Angeles. Bruce was the guy who hired the people who hired the people who screened reels and portfolios for new creative hires.

At a breakfast meeting the other day, he was telling me that if he learned nothing else at Ogilvy, it was that advertising had to solve a specific problem or provide the consumer with a singular benefit, whether that benefit be emotional or practical. Then, the benefit had to be tied inexorably to the advertised product.

This would seem to be Advertising 101, but as noted in my last post, “The Rise of Cool,” this simple discipline is often sacrificed on the altar of self-expression, ego and the misguided aspiration of creating “art,” not great advertising.

While I love “art,” and “cool” and “cutting edge” as much as the next guy, our profession is meant to unlock creativity for the purpose of selling ideas, products, causes or services. And I lamented that the “new cool” had not expanded our creative abilities, but severely restricted it.

Bruce laughed and told me that in the case of Larry Parker, “there’s virtually no difference between spots I shot in 1987 and the ones I made last year. The client is a direct response advertiser so they’re able to measure effectiveness pretty accurately. And the results have been amazingly consistent for 22 years. You hardly ever see testimonial campaigns anymore…because there is nothing “cool” about them. I guess cool is relative. My client thinks the commercials are really cool because every time they run he makes piles and piles of money.”

I went on to say that I can barely tell one light beer ad from another these days, but I still walk around singing jingles that were sometimes over 25 years old. I was preaching to the choir.

It turns out that back in the day – the late 1960’s and early 1970’s – Bruce was one of the only creative directors in New York with a piano in his office. While his work covers a broad range of styles and techniques – all developed with a specific brand essence in mind, of course – the jingle was one of his favorite devices.

“We’re American Airlines, doing what we do best.” If your over a certain age, I’d bet the farm that you just sang along with that. Same with his other memorable jingles, including “Hershey’s, the great American Chocolate Bar” and “Hot Dogs, Armour Hot Dogs, the dog kids love to bite.”

At a party recently – with an admittedly over 40 year-old crowd – someone asked Bruce to play a few of his favorite jingles. They laughed when he sat down at the piano (ten points if you get the joke) but all he had to do was play three or four notes of each jingle before the whole crowd was singing along. They grew up with those songs and they stuck – twenty, thirty or more years later. But it wasn’t just the tunes that were deeply imbedded in their minds. Jingles nearly always included product attributes, so the reasons to buy also stuck around.

So what’s un-cool about that? Let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and say that advertising is in fact more art than commerce. What’s the mark of great art? While we all have our own subjective perspectives on this question, we can probably agree that great art connects with people on a real gut level, stays with them over time. Perhaps it even lives on to appeal to subsequent generations.

My kids might not be singing, “It’s the real thing,” “Mmm, Mmm good” or “I wish I was an Oscar Meyer Wiener.” But you’re singing along again, aren’t you?

Jingles are way cool. Even if you don’t consider the successful ones to be art, you’d have to admit that they are an important part of our popular culture.

More importantly, they are highly memorable and effective for selling products. Let’s bring them back.

  • Phil Censky
    Posted at 10:50h, 23 August Reply

    With the popularity of remixes and collaborations in music these days (see the many permutations of Old Town Road), you’d think a clever brand would make a jingle the pillar of a social campaign. I, for one, would welcome a new age of the jingle.

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