The History

You might be tempted to think that jingles have existed almost as long as radio.

And you’d almost be right.

But there is lots of anecdotal evidence to show that the use of custom musical ‘songs’ as part of advertising goes back much further than that – at least to the time of Shakespeare, and perhaps much further.

In 16th century Elizabethan England, roaming bands of musicians would entertain on the street corners, hoping to entice a few coins from their audience.  Not enough to live on, unfortunately, so most musical groups had to have a ‘sponsor’ – the local butcher, baker, banker, etc. – someone who could afford to underwrite their expenses.

Sometimes these gestures were philanthropical, but more often there was a small price to pay… the musicians would be asked to write a song about their sponsor, to be performed as part of every performance they gave.

The first jingles – hundreds of years before radio existed.

And it’s entirely possible that this same practice goes back to Greek and Roman times.  There have always been performing musicians, and they have always needed more money…

The honour of being the first jingle to be ‘broadcast’ is usually attributed to General Mills, who’s catchy ditty for “Wheaties – “the best breakfast food in the land” – was first heard on Christmas Eve of 1926.  It initally aired only in the Minneapolis-St. Paul market, but when sales of Wheaties starting to take off ONLY in that market, it was clear they had a winner on their hands.

They immediately began airing the commercial nationally.  The resulting increase in sales quickly and permanently established the “Wheaties” brand nationwide.

Other advertisers quickly saw the value in having a custom musical melody that conveyed the name of their product in a more unique and memorable way than just having an announcer just say it.  Over the past 90 years many of the most effective and memorable advertising campaigns have been based around jingles.

And when did the process of music-based advertising start to evolve from the catchy and whimsical jingles of the “plop plop fizz fizz” era into thoughtful and modern audio versions of company logos? When advertisers started to recognize that music is best used to sell an experience and not just the consumption of a product. That is recent…especially with the advent of advertising platforms that are controlled by companies themselves such as website and social media. It’s not about selling a product when the typical consumer fairly assumes that a product will be available…the competitive edge today is expressing the experience a customer will have with you.

The power of music to make that happen is universal and undeniable.