Rough on Rats

HIT BRANDS is the second in a series of books about the relationship between music and brands. In today's chapter we examine the evolution of this partnership, tracing back to the first published commercial jingle in 1882.

Music is bigger than itself

The history of music and brands is best described as a palimpsest. The relationships have been written and rewritten many times but the roots are still visible and still inform the present.

In the present field of music and branding, which is extremely vibrant, there are people striving to be the first to launch a new and innovative idea. Whether it is being the first brand to own their own recording studio (Converse's Rubber Tracks in Brooklyn) or the first brand to embed their sonic logo into a pop song (Coca-Cola and K'naan's 'Wavin' Flag'), our peers and colleagues are always clamour­ing to adopt new technologies and new paradigms for music-brand partnerships. Every week, technology offers new opportunities for music branding through apps, devices, social networks and traditional for­ mats such as broadcasting, film and events. And when we talk about music branding we are specifically talking about brands using music as a tool in their marketing and communications, whether they are trying to engage with their consumers via free content or to reinforce their brand identity. This idea feels very contemporary but it bears noting that the concept of music branding has its origins long ago.

In fact, if we look at instances where music acts as a vessel for messaging (as it does in, say, commercial jingles) we can look all the way back to Gregorian chant. In 600 AD, Pope Gregory collected and codified all the Catholic chants. The citizens of 600 AD did not sit around and rock out to Gregorian chant on their headphones, rather this music acted as the conduit by which the Church could trans­mit dogma to its audience. Therefore, Gregorian chant, commonly thought to be the oldest recorded Western music, is also the earliest example we have of music that has messaging embedded within it. People learned these chants and it helped them retain the teachings of the Church while aiding in the spreading of their beliefs.

As the world progresses, we see music adopt many different pur­poses greater than itself. National anthems become the standard method for countries to drum up patriotism, particularly during times of war or global events such as the Olympic Games. Religious hymns, like Gregorian chant, continue to help the world's religions spread their teaching and beliefs. Lullabies become a vital tool in par­enting, with just one single purpose: putting children to sleep. Folk music becomes the easiest way for societies to transmit their stories and folklore down to the younger generations. Music has always been there - pushing our societies forward, providing a soundtrack to our belief systems and the evolution of our cultures.

The birth of jingles

A quick definition: the word 'jingle' has come to mean lots of differ­ent things but ultimately is as simple as 'sung copy'. Strictly speaking, it should rhyme but in reality, it does not have to. It started off refer­ring to a rhyme, then to one that was sung, and it has now become a generic term for any lyrical musical expression by a brand in adver­tising. But let's go back to where it all began.

In the 1500s and 1600s, the crowded London streets were filled with bustling shops and street yellers. These men and women would stand on the streets and sing short musical quips about the prod­ucts that were for sale in their shops. These savvy marketers were using music branding tools before we even had brands! Some of these jingles survive as children's nursery rhymes even today. Many of us remember 'Hot Cross Buns'. originally a street yeller jingle, and while we may not know exactly what a hot cross bun is, we do know that they are 'one a penny, two a penny'. These street yeller jingles were revolutionary and laid the groundwork for classics like 'I Wish I Were An Oscar Meyer Weiner' or 'Plop Fizz Fizz'.

In 1882, a rat poison company released what just might be the first published commercial jingle. 'Rough On Rats; containing the mem­orable pop hook 'We give a plan for every man to clear his house', was published as sheet music and was distributed in order that people could sing along on their home piano. Remember, this was a time in American history when every home had a piano instead of a stereo and people bought sheet music to be able to hear the new hits. It is amusing to imagine a roomful of family members listening to this jingle being performed in their living room.

For the first recorded jingle we turn to 'Have You Tried Wheaties?' from 1926. General Mills was close to pulling the poorly perform-ing Wheaties cereal off the shelves, but a savvy marketing manager in Minneapolis commissioned this jingle to fill radio airtime rather than a typical voice-over spot. By the end of the year, they evaluated their sales and found that of the 53,000 cases sold in the US, 30,000 of them were bought in Minneapolis, the only market where the jingle had aired. This offered irrefutable proof that the jingle was an effective marketing tool and started a trend in advertising that still exists today.

In 1944, one commercial jingle leaps from the advertising medium to become a hit song. Chiquita Bananas 'Chiquita Banana Song' transcended the commercial from whence it came and became a fixture on American radio. At one point, the memorable jingle ('Bananas Taste The Best And Are Best For You') was aired 376 times a day on the radio. It's around this time that the golden era of jingles in the US takes off and brings us such classic lyrics as 'Hamm's the Beer Refreshing', 'Nobody Doesn't Like Sarah Lee' and 'Rice-A-Roni , The San Francisco Treat!'

In 1971, the most impactful and lasting commercial jingle hit the airwaves - Coca-Colas 'I Want To Buy The World A Coke; of course - and this became a worldwide phenomenon. This jingle was so meaningful to Coke's consumers that people began calling radio stations and requesting it. That is an advertiser's dream scenario: free airtime for your jingle. At one point, in the Billboard Top Ten, there were two different versions of the song charting at the same time. The world has seen many jingles since but none as powerful and transcendent as this one, and soon the advertising industry began shifting away from original jingles and toward licensing existing songs in their ads.

Appropriating music in advertising

As already uncovered in 2003 by Daniel M. Jackson's Sonic Branding: An Introduction, in 1905 the songwriting team of Gus Edwards and Vincent P. Bryan wrote a song called 'My Merry Oldsmobile' which became a big hit for sheet music and popular artists. The song had the then somewhat risqué line: 'You can go as far as you like with me in my merry Oldsmobile: By 1908, Oldsmobile began using the song in its marketing as an anthem and in 1927, the Jean Goldkette Orchestra was invited by General Motors to make an updated record­ing of the song. What makes this interesting is that it starts a trend of agencies licensing existing songs for their clients.

Through the l960s, 70s and 80s we see this start to take off, albeit almost always with very popular songs - think Sunkist's 'Good Vibrations' (in the US) or Levi's 'Heard it Through the Grapevine' (in the UK) - but a major milestone occurred in 1999 when Moby released his seminal album 'Play'. Now that may not seem innova­tive or original upon first glance but it represents a dramatic change in the way brands and the music industry work together. On top of being the top-selling electronica album of all time (10 million cop­ies), 'Play' was unique in that all 18 of the album 's songs were licensed to appear in either a commercial, television show, film or video game, many of them even before the album was released. The songs appear in commercials for brands as diverse as Nordstrom, American Express, Nissan, Volkswagen, Baileys Irish Cream and Super Bock Beer. Fatboy Slim's 'You've Come a Long Way Baby; out around the same time, also saw a massive amount of licensing, such as ads for NYSE, The Virgin Suicides,the Pittsburgh Steelers and PlayStation. Around this time, we had shows like Dawson's Creek telling us where to buy the music we heard on the show, and a real trend where the music industry and the branding and entertainment industries are starting to work together. Commercials also begin to become a new promotional channel for albums.

Brands slowly begin to realize that there is more to the power of music than just the jingle or the commercial license. In an early example of a deep, strategic relationship between an artist and a brand, between 1951 and 1963, Dinah Shore acted as the voice and spokesperson for Chevrolet, which included the unforgettable line 'See the USA in your Chevrolet, America's the Greatest Land of All': Shore sang 'The Chevy jingle' at the opening and closing of every one of her shows and became synonymous with the brand. During the 2011 Super Bowl, American audiences of a certain age were thrilled to hear the memorable jingle, this time sung by the cast of Glee.

In 1981, The Rolling Stones were about to embark on a US tour, but before doing so signed their first tour sponsorship agreement with Jovan Musk. In this deal, Jovan Musk paid $1 million to have their logo appear at the bottom of posters and ticket sales for the tour. This partnership proved fruitful for both parties and so began the tour sponsorship industry. By 1985, pop music and marketing were becoming synonymous and Pepsi released a commercial that was often mistaken for a music video. Michael Jackson's 'You're a Whole New Generation' was set to the tune of 'Billy Jean' and was even more famous for the pyrotechnic error that almost cost Jackson his life. The pay-off for Pepsi was huge and people began calling radio stations to request the Pepsi song, rather than the original single. Marketing and music tie-ins had become the norm by 1986, illustrated so clearly when even Rolling Stone magazine began pub­lishing an edition titled 'Marketing Through Music' specifically to track the latest music-brand pairings.

By 2004, when faced with how to release their new single 'Vertigo', U2 decided to premiere the song in an Apple iPod commercial rather than the typical cycle of press, radio and promotions. And by 2008, Groove Armada, a successful European electronica act, decided it no longer even needed a record label, opting instead to release a new recording through Bacardi.

Soundtracking physical spaces

Something dramatic happened in America in the 1930s. Skyscrapers went up in big cities and people were faced with something new: elevators that went up 30, 40, 50 stories. Understandably, people were nervous about getting into these metal boxes, so a company called Muzak was born to pipe in relaxing music and soothe these nervous elevator riders. Muzak, founded in 1934, started a revolu­tion of music being provided to businesses, offices and in just about every public and private space.

By the 1980s it was becoming more usual for stores to have music playing, and by the turn of this century it had become a common business requirement. Brands today have complex audio identities and custom music programs designed to accentuate their brand iden­tity, engage with their target demographic and create a compelling and deliberate environment. Whether a brand such as Abercrombie & Fitch (with its well-known and polarizing retail soundtrack) or a brand such as Sephora (which we will explore in Chapter 6), every major retail or hospitality brand today uses music as a central com­ponent of the shopping experience.

Chimes, IDs, Sonic Logos                        

There is much debate as to when the first sonic logo originated. Television and radio stations had been using station IDs for decades and NBC's three-note sequence is widely considered one of the most successful examples of a branded chime. But in 1994, the entire notion of mnemonics was turned on its head when Intel commis­sioned the 'Intel bong' from composer Walter Werzowa. Intel included this five-note audio signature at the end of not just their own commercials but also on any PC that was using their processor. As a result, this sonic logo was heard once every five minutes in its heyday in the late 1990s. Today, sonic logos or stings remain a popular model for linking music and brands, albeit one that may be viewed as 'residual' rather than dominating current thinking or representing the future musical elements of a brand's identity.

Where we are today

Today, the music branding (or sonic branding) industry is thriving, made up of consultants, original music composers, music licensing agents, background music companies, lifestyle marketing agencies and the struggling legacy music industry itself, which has created departments devoted to brand partnerships. In 2010, Billboard and Adweek hosted the first 'Music and Advertising' conference in New York City, which represented a meeting of minds between brands, agents and musicians.

In 1999, when sonic branding was still in its infancy, the agency Sonicbrand conducted a study in which fewer than 10 percent of brands responded that they considered music as part of their brand­ing. A similar study in 2009 by Heartbeats International found that '97% of top global brands think that music can strengthen their brand'. The industry and profile of music for brands has come a long way and today brands seem to be acutely aware of the importance of music across all their various channels.

Customers engage with brands through music in the product itself, while present in retail establishments, while viewing and hear­ing brand messages in advertisements, while encountering the brand in new environments such as music festivals and concerts and even with on-hold messaging and voicemail systems. Brands invest in music for all these touchpoints but at the moment, they tend to do so in silos. While this is not ideal, it is the reality and the reason why we have split this book into three parts, dealing firstly with music as identity before examining music as engagement in the physical space and music as both hard and social currency.

Daniel M Jackson - CEO, CORD

with Eric Sheinkop and Richard Jankovich