Saturday, October 11, 2008

Jingles All The Way

Here’s the thing — you either love those jingles or you loathe them. But if you loathe them, its only because you’re mad that you’ve been singing them all day. Here they are if you’re not familiar with them:

“Freecreditreport was the first musical job I’d ever done,” said David Muhlenfeld, the staffer at the Martin Agency responsible for writing the trio of tunes. “They didn’t ask for music but that’s where it went.” Most of the clients that come to his advertising firm are on retainer, meaning companies pay them a monthly fee in exchange for an ever-flowing supply of print, radio and television ads. But signed up on a project basis. “A corporate one-night stand,” Muhlenfeld joked of the relationship, saying the company came to them based on the strength of the agency’s work on the Geico cavemen commercials, a campaign Muhlendfeld himself didn’t work on.

With’s contract expiring, and wanting to try something different, the one-time synth pop geek penned a handful of songs for their radio campaign. “I thought it was just a funny premise to start out with,” he said of the original spot, which featured lyrics about a slacker who meets his dream girl only to discover she’s got bad credit. But because the TV-portion of the campaign he was creating didn’t have quite enough material, Muhlenfeld decided to adapt his radio jingle into a TV spot. And it worked. “We played it for the client,” he said, which he performed over the phone on an acoustic guitar. “It was the last thing we presented – and he immediately said, ‘That’s what I want to do, go write some more.’” So he did. Three more in fact, which he demoed on GarageBand, the results of which were later played for the employees of who voted on their favorites, eventually becoming the campaign’s first three commercials.

The effectiveness of the commercials’ quirky songs was evident right from the get-go. “The numbers were very good,” Muhlenfeld said of the increase in visitors to In addition, the commercials became viral video hits. “Somebody leaked the spots onto YouTube,” he said. “At first we got 600 hits, and then 1200 hits, and then we checked back in a week or so and it was 20,000 hits. And now it’s up to 600,000 or 700,000 for each of them.” Capturing lightning-in-a-bottle and becoming a successful viral video is not something that’s easily re-creatable. It’s hard to understand exactly why Tay Zonday or Little Superstar or the Cadbury gorilla commercial tap into the cultural zeitgeist and become a hit. “That’s the real success,” he admits. “Without really even trying to create a viral-type success, we did. And now of course we’re going to try and convince people we meant to do that all along.”

Aside from the professional attention the commercials have garnered, the jingles have brought some personal satisfaction with them as well. “It’s definitely an ice-breaker at dinner parties,” he joked. “And kids are really into it,” he added. “I’m always getting stories about how they were at a pep rally at their kids football game and the whole gym started singing the song.”

Muhlendfeld said he hopes the success of the commercials will wake people up to what music can do for advertisers. “I think jingles had gone quite out of fashion,” he told us. “It was nice to reignite some interest in singing.” He thinks the spots worked so well because the band in the commercials (led by actor Eric Violette) think of themselves as a real band. “They’re real ballads about this guy’s sad ass life,” he said. Though the songs didn’t necessarily come easy to Muhlenfeld, he said jingles are often easier to write than traditional pop songs. “You’ve got a list of three of four things you must say in order to paid by your client, and you know that you have 30 seconds, which is good since it gives you parameters to work from.”

If the jingles could maintain any place in our collective memory, Muhlenfeld hopes they’ll remain as indelible as his favorite jingle for Juicy Fruit gum. “It’s the most sexually suggestive spot I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe they got away with it.” See the spot below:

If you’re a fan of the three current commercials, you’re in luck. There are new spots on the way, and in several new genres, one with a “punkier edge.” And if you’re not a fan, unfortunately they may be tough to escape. There’s also a jingle-based reality series on the way from CBS and Mark Burnett called “Jingles.” Note to producers: Muhlenfeld wants in. “I want to be a guest judge,” he said excitedly. “That would be awesome!”

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