The Jingle: Melody and Memory

The streets of 16th century London were a crowded and noisy affair. Soon to become the world’s biggest city, it was struggling to cope with rapid expansion. Street traders and merchants found it difficult to promote their products over the noise of the town but discovered that by singing the names of their wares they could cut through the clamour and attract more attention. And thus, the jingle was born.

At that point the Church was already using song to spread its beliefs and the national anthem has for a long time been a way to drum up patriotism and remind people which side they were on.

There is a whole school of science devoted to defining why music and melody are the most effective way to get people to remember something. As we’ve come to find out, it all has to do with how the brain is wired. The relationship between music and memory explains how you can instantly recite the lyrics from songs that you haven’t heard for 10 years without hesitation. Examples of auditory mnemonics – sounds that aid memory and recall – can range from children singing the alphabet to the Facebook Messenger alert.

But recall is only part of it. Music and the the musical DNA of a great jingle has the power to convey emotion, an identity, or a feeling without the use of words which can be clumsy or sometimes misinterpreted. Music makes you feel. The same relationship applies to radio jingles and the clever ways in which you can utilise melody to channel the brand values of a radio station.

Like everything in life there are good and bad examples. It’s hard to compare a painting by Picasso to that of a 3-year-old. The same applies to radio jingles. The excess of cheesy advertising messages that flourished in the second half of the 20th century has given the term a bad name in some quarters but melody still prevails as the most impactful way to stick in someone’s head.

As radio jingles become more sophisticated (or in some cases more stripped back and straightforward) there’s a lot to be excited about. Technology has done two things; given us a plethora of new ways to make the music in the first place and an ever expanding range of places to put it in order to instantly convey an emotion and identify a brand.

For example, fusing sound design, affected vocals and melodic elements is still a jingle in my book. It’s simply a contemporary version targeting a younger, more savvy audience.

These days, the streets of London continue to be filled with advertising and the demand for your attention is unprecedented. Messages fill every available space, medium and platform. But you wouldn’t have to walk far to hear someone humming or singing along to their favourite song. Or radio station. The radio station with the biggest commercial share in the city last year started singing its name on a new jingle package and now has the biggest share in nine years. A co-incidence? Maybe. But definitely something to sing about.


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