Licensed to Sell

Pretty much the only pitchy chorus you'll hear from commercials these days is this one: the jingle is dead. Once a standby of TV and radio commercials, those maddeningly catchy maxims are no longer. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz? Been there, done that. Ads now aspire to loftier heights: making the music in commercials as entertaining as the stuff on CDs. Just as advertisers have employed hep film directors (John Woo, the Coen brothers, Kevin Smith) to transform commercials visually, they're enlisting esteemed artists to liven up the audio.

Pop music and advertising have a long history together. But whereas a couple of decades ago jingles would occasionally work as pop music and vice versa (Coke's "I'd Like To Teach the World To Sing" broke the Top 10 in 1972; the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun" was originally a bank commercial), by the '80s, crossing over had, uh, crossed over.

Advertisers increasingly turned to licensing popular songs, rather than crafting original tunes for commercials. Once Nike bought the rights to the Beatles' "Revolution," everything seemed up for grabs. Parliament, Staple Singers, "Disco Inferno": if it can be hummed--and even if it can't--it can be licensed.

"Audiences today are too intelligent and sophisticated for [jingles]," says Rick Lyon of Lyon Music, a company that makes ad music. People easily identify jingles as advertising and tune them out. Music in ads these days

So what now? I'm not sure, but until we figure something out, I'd like to suggest a moratorium on further uses of Parliament, Stereolab, and Hank Williams in commercials, in exchange for forfeiting the rights to all electronica. (Tricky, Spooky, Chemical Brothers: all yours!) Or maybe we should, as a friend of mine suggested, just start recording the fax machine and listening to that. With so many forces competing for our ears, we're only going to find music where it is least expected.


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