Ah, the jingle. Brainwashing at its most palatable. Like all aspects of advertising, jingles are carefully crafted to instill a need in you, the consumer. Without the company’s product, your life lacks meaning, and you are an inefficient, unsuccessful organism. You loser, you.
Better do something about it right quick.
The most insidious (and thus most effective) facets of advertising are those which stick with us even after an ad is over. You might remember a funny gimmick. You’ll probably remember a slick slogan. You WILL remember a good jingle. The tune serves as a delivery system. It’s the hypodermic injecting a company’s message into the deepest recesses of your brain. Truly great jingles work their way into our cultural consciousness, and become the leitmotifs of our lives.
For this list, I based my ranking on a few criteria. First off, these are the tunes which most often pop into my mind unbidden, the ones I find myself whistling in the car or singing in the shower. Second, priority went to jingles which effectively drive home information about their respective products, particularly when said information would otherwise be dense or dull. Finally, I gave a bit of a boost to jingles which dare to go the extra mile in terms of production – Why settle for the standard 10- or 15-second snippet when you could build your jingle into a full-fledged single?
I chose to exclude two classes of jingle from consideration:
1. Jingles which appropriate pre-existing tunes. As memorable and effective as they may be, adopting an already popular melody written by someone else feels like cheating. Therefore, I must say goodbye to Grape Escape (“Funiculi, Funicula”), Perfection (“Pop Goes the Weasel”) and, sadly, the unforgettable Nestle Wonder Ball (“Book of Love”).
2. “Jingles” less than two measures long. As far as I’m concerned, these count more as “callsigns” than proper jingles. Such semi-musical blurbs include the Ricola yodel, the Yahoo yell, the NBC chimes (interestingly, the first sound ever trademarked), and the eight-tone chant used to advertise the defecating doll “Potty Dotty.” Yes, I still find myself humming that last one from time to time.
15. Tucker’s AC (Heating and Cooling)
“When your furnace bites the dust,
Call the people that you trust!”
Many of the jingles on this list date back decades. It seems for a while (roughly the 80s and 90s), the popularity of jingles waned slightly, and only the old stalwarts survived the die-off. Now, jingles are making a comeback, with mixed results. Here’s one of the good ones, from a local air-conditioning company based in the D.C. area. The jingle combines a driving rhythm with a “folksy,” country sound. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill elitist furnace repairmen, they’re just good old boys! Plus, they value courtesy and integrity. What’s not to like?
It may be a newcomer, but I rock out to this jingle every time it comes on the radio…something that can’t be said of most of the actual songs.
14. Chiquita® Bananas (Produce)
“Bananas like the climate of the very, very tropical Equator
So you should never put bananas…in your re-frig-er-ator!”
Now we jump from one of the newest to one of the oldest. The “Chiquita Banana song” has been explaining the finer points of banana management since the 1940s. With the musical advice of an anthropomorphic banana on their side, postwar housewives across the U.S. could now incorporate the “exotic” Latin American fruit into their lives. Remember, “you can put them in a salad, you can put them in a pie. Any way you want to eat them, it’s impossible to beat them!”
13. Victoria Bitter (Beer)
I debated for a while whether or not to include foreign jingles on this list. This might not seem like too overwhelming a conundrum, but, as you’ll see, it does significantly affect the placement of my highest-ranking selections. Ultimately, though, I decided to let in some international entries…part of the reason this is a “Top 15” list rather than a Top 10.
Victoria Bitter is one of Australia’s most popular beer brands. Its success was buoyed in part by an advertising campaign which depicted, as Wikipedia says, “working-class Australians at work and play.” Accompanying this maelstrom of gumboots and barbies was #13 on our list, a rollicking instrumental number which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Magnificent Seven theme (though it’s not identical, as per exclusionary rule #1).
But the Victoria Bitter jingle earns a spot on this list primarily for a more recent, and epic, rendition of the tune. In the TV spot linked above, dubbed “Stubby Symphony” after the brand’s distinctively stunted bottles, members of the Melbourne and Victoria symphony orchestras play the VB jingle entirely on bottles. Blown in panpipe arrangements, struck like xylophones, and (spoilers) smashed dramatically at the climax, the bottles prove surprisingly musical. If this were a list of most memorable commercials, these blokes and sheilas would take top marks.
12. Mr. Bucket (Toys & Games)
“I’m Mr. Bucket, we’re all gonna run,
I’m Mr. Bucket – [mouth pop] – buckets of fun!”
Our next selection is one made notorious on the internet, though I knew the song by heart before I ever saw it lampooned online. People frequently misquote Mr. Bucket as instructing young players to “put your balls in my mouth.” The actual opening stanza of the song goes:
“I’m Mr. Bucket, toss your balls in my top,
I’m Mr. Bucket, out of my mouth they will pop.”
Maybe it’s not exactly innocuous. But people have blown it way out of proportion. The game is played by frantically scooping up all the balls of your assigned color and placing them inside the titular bucket-man before he has time to spit them out. This objective is made harder by Mr. Bucket scooting around the floor in an unpredictable pattern, and the fact that you may only scoop the balls using strangely designed fork-like implements.
“Mr. Bucket” joins this jingle hall of fame not for any testicle-based controversy it’s created, but rather for its inspired use of mouth percussion. That last line is poetry: after a moment of exquisite tension, the unexpected pop sound and the similarly aspirated delivery of the word “bucket” provide an oddly satisfying resolution.
11. “The Invisible Fencing Dog” (Home Security)
I’m in “Umptee-3” territory with this one. I can’t find the original ad anywhere, but I did come across a single reference which confirms I still remember the lyrics. It perfectly demonstrates how even the most mundane subjects can become musical masterpieces in the hands of a jingle maestro:
“My dog, stays in the yard,
My dog, never chases cars,
My dog, he’s so smart,
He’s an INVISIBLE FENCING DOG!”
Of course, without being able to hear the music, its effectiveness will be lost on you. My only hope is that some kindly internet traveler will wander by this humble post who has access to a copy of the ad. Or, at the very least, someone else who remembers it. Then we can both celebrate and commiserate simultaneously.
It’s a good jingle. You’re just going to have to trust me.
10. Mr. Clean (Cleaning)
“Mr. Clean gets rid of dirt and grime and grease in just a minute
Mr. Clean’ll clean your whole house and everything that’s in it.”
We crack the Top Ten with an effervescent tune perfectly suited to its mascot, that musclebound genie of clean. Mr. Clean originated in the 1950s (chemist Linwood Burton designed it for the Navy as a less caustic way to clean ships), and you can tell. The bouncy melody is perfectly home alongside other “sunny” tunes of the era, such as Mr. Clean contemporary “Mr. Sandman.” In the following decades the jingle has endured, and though its use has been intermittent over the years, it’s never been replaced. Like its mascot, this is one song that still sparkles like new. I particularly like the rapid-fire list of things Mr. Clean can clean, including “walls, halls” and even “old golf balls.”
While performing my (cursory) research for this article, I was surprised at the depth and detail of the Mr. Clean Wikipedia page. Apparently, “Mr. Clean has always smiled, except for a brief time in the ‘Mean Mr. Clean‘ series of ads, when he was frowning because he hated dirt.” I shared this factoid with my friend Ben, who noted that “It’s sad to think he spends his life surrounded by that which he hates most.” I would counter that he’s where he needs to be, and doing what he loves. As they say, it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. And Mr. Clean, mean or otherwise, is fulfilling his destiny.
9. Kit Kat (Candy)
“Gimme a break, gimme a break,
Break me off a piece of that KIT KAT BAR!”
Of all the products on this list, Kit Kat is the one I think of as most fully embracing its jingle. In fact, I was surprised to find that the “classic” jingle has only been used since the 80s, and only in America (the bar originated in England in the 1930s). But at least here in the States, I defy you to open, or even look at, a Kit Kat bar, without hearing those final three percussive notes in your head: “KIT! KAT! BAR!”
Other countries’ advertising campaigns also emphasize the candy’s break-apart nature. The British slogan is “Take a Break!” rather than “Gimme a Break!” But what makes this jingle so effective is that you can actually HEAR the break. Each sharp, staccato crack calls to mind the crisp candy in a weirdly synesthetic way. You can almost feel the wafers snapping apart in your hands. One recent campaign even had the jingle performed entirely via rhythmic bar-breaks. That’s some mighty fine brand/jingle synergy.
8. Home Depot (Hardware)
Let me start by saying I have an unusually personal connection to the Home Depot jingle. The piece, performed by guitarist Eric Blaszczak, is completely instrumental, a relative rarity among jingles. And for whatever reason, the low brass section of my high school marching band adopted it as one of their signature “pep tunes” to play in the stands at football games. Here they are performing it on the album they recorded my junior year. The section even went one further and created a military style call-and-response “cadence” dedicated to the home improvement hotspot:
“For tools there’s just one place to go!
And that place is the Home Depot!
If you need tools, then give a yelp!
You can do it. We can help!”
But even barring my personal ties, this jingle is pretty nifty. The nostalgic, mellow, almost sad tone expertly captures a sense of “home.” One gets the feeling that this “Depot” is a welcoming destination, with an appreciation for family, hard work, and the American homeland.
Lowe’s ain’t got nothing on this.
7. Folgers (Coffee)
“Every day I wake up, and pour myself a cup
Of that rich Folgers aroma, the best part of waking up!”
As with Victoria Bitter, the Folgers jingle might just leap to the top of this list if I was only considering one particularly stellar rendition of each tune. That’s because, while the standard jingle is fine and dandy, the version linked above is one of the most finely produced jingles of all time. In fact, it could well be the best 45 second song in existence.
Earn This editor Dan confided that he peeked at this article before it went up. Just as I felt a connection to the Home Depot jingle, he said he felt one to this very version of the Folgers song. In Dan’s words,
“When I was in high school, I went to a weeklong summer service program every summer. They would wake us up every morning by playing a song over the loudspeaker.
One morning they woke us up with an a capella version of the Folgers commercial. I only heard it semi-consciously but I instantly thought it was the greatest thing ever. When I got home, I searched for it on YouTube, but this was when YouTube was like 1 year old and there were only a few videos on it. I couldn’t find it. And because I had only heard it while half-awake, I wasn’t even sure if I was remembering it properly: Was it a capella or did it just have good harmonies? Was it the Folgers jingle or something else similar? Could it possibly be as great as I remember it being? I looked a few more times online with no luck. I gradually forgot about it, dismissing it as something I’d either misremembered or would never find.
That is, until I clicked on the link in your post yesterday. Ten-year-old memories and emotions came flooding back. I instantly knew it was the thing I heard that camp morning so long ago. WTF!? It exists!? And it’s just as great as I remembered it… maybe even better. So catchy and uplifting, beautifully sung and harmonized.”
Those beautiful harmonies come courtesy of Rockapella, an a capella group arguably best remembered for their 5-year stint as the “house band” on PBS’ Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? series, for which they also wrote and sang the killer theme song. The group recorded their Folgers ad in the late 90s, a year or two after their Sandiego heyday. And they’re in top form: This song gets you instantly pumped to start your day…even if you happen to be listening at night. In fact, I got so into it while writing this blurb that I had to go downstairs and get a cup of coffee.
“I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener,
That is what I’d truly like to be.
For if I were an Oscar Mayer wiener,
Everyone would be in love with me!”
Oscar Mayer bears the rare distinction of having not one, but two awesome jingles. The company’s ode to baloney (or rather, “b-o-l-o-g-n-a”) is plenty catchy, and will inexorably etch the proper spelling of “Mayer” into your memory. But the brand’s fanfare to frankfurters is the real top dog. Written as a rousing march, “I Wish I Were an Oscar Mayer Wiener” compels you to parade on down to your nearest sausage merchant without delay.
Much as I love this song, however, the implications of the lyrics are a little troubling. Would you really want to be a sausage? To be ground up, stuffed into a rope of intestinal lining, and then eaten? Oddly enough, the early ad I’ve linked to addresses this issue directly. A group of schoolchildren march down the street happily singing the jingle, presumably on their way to be pureed into meat paste. A lone dissenter – portrayed as a typical geek – instead marches in the opposite direction, proudly proclaiming he has no desire to be an Oscar Mayer wiener, because, as he quite rightly points out, PEOPLE EAT THOSE. His radicalism doesn’t last long, though…his classmates refuse to tolerate his contrarian, intellectualist nonsense, and browbeat him into joining in on the proper song.
God bless America.
Another component of what makes the “Wiener” jingle so successful lies in Oscar Mayer’s multi-faceted marketing campaign. I’m speaking, of course, about the Wienermobile & Wienerwhistle. The trifecta of an infectious melody, a car shaped like a hot dog, and a whistle shaped like a car shaped like a hot dog has proved an advertising juggernaut since the 1950s.
As for choosing the best version or “cover” of the tune, I’d have to go with Jon Lovitz’s spirited performance on an episode of The Simpsons. I couldn’t say it better than Homer himself:
“That’s it, Marge. He knows the whole hot dog song! Go ahead, sleep with him.”
5. Slinky (Toys & Games)
“What goes down stairs, alone or in pairs
And makes a slink-ety sound?
A string, a spring, a marvelous thing –
Everyone knows, it’s Slinky!”
Number five on our list may be the most insidious earworm of the bunch. It tends to intrude on one’s subconscious at inopportune times. More than once I’ve been taking an exam, racking my brain for an answer, when suddenly:
“IT’S SLIIIINK-Y! IT’S SLIIIINK-Y! IT’S SUCH A WONDERFUL TOY!”
“IT’S SLIIIINK-Y! IT’S SLIIIINK-Y! IT’S FUN FOR A GIRL OR A BOY!”
The lyrics have changed multiple times over the years, but that insufferable tune remains. Like Poe’s raven it looms over us, forever repeating, mocking us for eternity. Will we ever forget it?
4. J.G. Wentworth (Finance)
“If you get long-term payments but you need cash now,
Call J.G. Wentworth, 877-CASH-NOW!”
Especially in recent years, commercials advertising insurance and other financial services have been some of the most stylistic and outlandish on the air. Because their subject is inherently dry and potentially difficult to understand, firms need a unique angle to draw and hold audience attention. Sexy secret agents. Talking lizards. Rhetorical questions? It’s all par for the course.
One company simultaneously eschewed and embraced this eccentricity, by telling prospective customers exactly what services it provides…in the form of a Wagnerian opera. The J.G. Wentworth jingle earns such a high ranking because it perfectly expresses everything you need to know about the company, and does so in a memorable way. I’m no economics wizard, but I do know that if you have a structured settlement, an annuity, or other long-term payments, you can sell them to J.G. Wentworth for a lump sum of cash. But how to get in touch with them?
Oh, that’s right. They tell you the phone number, over and over again. But they do it in such a melodious fashion that the repetition doesn’t get annoying. The message simply sinks deeper and deeper into your grey matter with each iteration. So what are you waiting for?
Call J.G. Wenthworth, 877-CASH-NOW!
3. Skip-It (Toys & Games)
“Hey there kids, come gather round,
And see what just skipped into town!”
Now for a jingle so good it makes me hurt myself.
For the uninitiated, Skip-It is a relatively simple toy consisting of a weighted ball at the end of a cord, which the user slips around his or her ankle. Players start the ball spinning around them with a hula-hoop-like movement, and then “skip it” with the other foot each time it passes by.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
I never owned a Skip-It, but my friend’s sister did. Intrigued by the awesome commercial and the element of competition (in a feature dubbed the “very best thing of all,” a “counter on this ball” kept track of how many rotations each player completed), I had to give it a try.
But for reasons beyond my comprehension…I cannot Skip It. I have never successfully Skipped It. All I ever manage is a lopsided hop. The Skip-It swings around in a mighty arc and, just at the moment the ball end reaches roughly the speed of sound, cracks me in the shin. The Counter On This Ball® remains static. I groan. I start again.
I know I should stop. I know I should seek help. But THE JINGLE’S TOO DAMN GOOD.
When I hear this song, I can’t help but dance (my dancing also consists mostly of lopsided hops). There’s such energy! Such passion! When they say the counter on this ball is the very best thing of all, YOU BELIEVE IT. You are powerless to resist: You WILL try to beat your very best score! You WILL see if you can jump a whole lot more!
And so I will persist, with splintered shins, until It has been Skipped.
2. Segata Sanshiro / Sega Saturn (Toys & Games)
(“Play Sega Saturn!”)
I know I’ve already talked your ears off (or, more accurately, typed your eyes off) about the glory of Segata Sanshiro. But let’s be real. He’s a spokesman dedicated to physically assaulting people who do anything but use his product. He’s “the lone man who gave his soul to gaming.” Can you ever really say enough about him?
For those who may not have read my earlier post, Segata Sanshiro was the mascot used to advertise the Sega Saturn console in its native Japan. Like other martial arts legends, he trained in the mountains to master his craft, descending occasionally to throttle anyone dancing, flirting, playing sports, or doing anything else less “serious” than playing Sega Saturn.
As I wrote previously, “when not assaulting half of Japan, Segata Sanshiro also spent time speed-skating barefoot, stopping fastballs with his bare chest, and kicking home-runs. He also fought the occasional zombie, and even made time for love. And all the while, his epic theme song played. This is no jingle. It’s a friggin’ orchestral anthem…all about playing Sega Saturn until your fingers break.”
Let talk about that orchestral anthem. Seriously, this it the biggest, grandest, most sweeping theme I can think of for any corporate mascot. It’s more impressive than many national anthems and movie scores. It’s 3 minutes of sheer awesome. And it doesn’t just cause you to hurt yourself incidentally. It ORDERS YOU to hurt yourself.
So really, I had no choice but to rank Segata Sanshiro’s “jingle” highly. If I didn’t, he would question me deep in my heart, and my battered body would never forget.
1. Razor Gator (Hygiene)
“When you see the gunk start fallin’ / You’ll know the tool has found its callin’
And if you feel the need for shavin’ / Remember why those folks are ravin'”
Not even Segata-San could oust the #1 pick from atop this list. Though you’ve probably never seen or heard of the Razor Gator, its jingle, the king of all jingles, will make you want to track one down.
The Razor Gator’s designers describe it as a “razor extender” tool. The “Gator” consists of a small, bristly brush intended to sweep bits of hair from between the blades of a razor, thereby extending each razor’s useful “lifetime.” It’s a good idea, but hardly earth-shaking.
But that jingle, man. It’ll change your life.
I first heard a fairly standard, “jingle-length” version of the song on that one-time staple of internet culture, YTMND. “You’re the Man Now, Dog” is a forum for people to post images (typically animated gifs) accompanied by sound. The coupling produces an idiosyncratic, comedic effect, and, at least for a few years in the earliest days of “Web 2.0,” the site was extremely popular. A wide assortment of YTMND-specific memes developed, to the point that they overlapped and intermingled. There were even comic book style “alternate universe” versions of the most popular memes (“You’re the Man Now, Dog” was a line from the film Finding Forrester; the alternate universe was dubbed “Punch the Keys for God Sake,” another line from the same scene).
People even put together compilation albums of songs featured in popular YTMND posts. And it was on one of these playlists that I found the full version of the Razor Gator jingle. Like the Segata Sanshiro theme, what makes this song great is its unexpectedly epic production. Rather than a mere “jingle,” it’s a full-length single. And it rises above even its most legendary competitors for a simple reason: Despite the mundane nature of the product, every instant of these 2 and a half minutes is pumped full to bursting with the spirit and sound of an 80s sports movie climax.
These dudes aren’t just brushing gunk out of a razor. They’re Rocky Balboa, training on a Siberian mountaintop. They’re the Karate Kid, toppling Kobra Kai with a crane kick. They are living their lives to the fullest. And it’s all because of RAZOR GATOR.
You will shave. You will rave. You will save. And you will do it all accompanied by the transcendent strains of bodacious guitar riffs.
All for the low, low price of $9.99.
And that’s what a good jingle’s all about.