Why Bad Jingles Make Good Marketing

I work for a nonprofit car donation program called Kars4Kids, which funds educational initiatives for children. We have a jingle people love to hate. And we know that because they complain about it on Facebook every day.

People post comments like: “Your commercials are THE most annoying ever. Please stop.”

Or: “Words can’t describe how much I loathe your advertisement.”

These are polite compared to some. The tenor of these sentiments is the reason comments were disabled soon after we posted a version of the jingle on YouTube. Despite the criticism, the Kars4Kids jingle is worth its weight in gold. It sticks in your head like a good earworm should. And the crazy thing is it was recorded spur of the moment by a volunteer in a basement.

Before you say, “It sounds like it,” consider this:

The Kars4Kids jingle wasn’t planned by a team. There was no budget, no studio, no famous spokesperson. It was created in 2004. Its goal was to be catchy. Today, the jingle runs in 14 markets nationwide, playing on about 50 stations, with its daily reach somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 million listeners.

That’s just radio, by the way. We’re on TV now too.

While you can safely assume the jingle was never going to win a Grammy, it is still relevant after all these years. In the past eight months, half of our Twitter mentions were about the song. And that relevance also extends to pop culture.

For instance, BuzzFeed senior editor Katie Notopoulos tweeted about the jingle for an entire week.

Jerry Seinfeld ranted about the jingle to sports talk host Steve Somers. The late, great Robin Williams sang it on an episode of Puddin’, the live-action cartoon. Jimmy Fallon took a poke at it on his show. And Saturday Night Live spoofed the jingle as a chosen method of psychological torture by the CIA. Not quite celebrity endorsements per se, but celebrity advertising nonetheless.

It’s the kind of branding nonprofits typically can’t afford to buy. Fortunately, we didn’t have to.

Just because the Kars4Kids song lives on, though, doesn’t mean jingles are thriving. In “What Killed the Jingle,” Atlantic writer Tiffany Stanley makes the argument that these short catchphrases are no longer wanted or necessary. Marketers prefer to license recognizable music from recording artists, a market that brought in $355 million last year.

As Stanley writes, “Instead of jingles, we have singles.”

But when you have an effective jingle, you don’t have to worry about licensing expensive music from Coldplay. You have your own song developed specifically for your needs. Take Roto-Rooter, a plumbing company: Its jingle, “Call Roto-Rooter, that’s the name, and away go troubles down the drain,” is still going strong after 62 years. Like Kars4Kids, Roto-Rooter kept the creative process basic. The jingle was recorded by a band in Indiana called Capt. Stubby and The Buccaneers. Band members earned $50 apiece.

It’s the kind of branding nonprofits typically can’t afford to buy. Fortunately, we didn’t have to.

According to Linda Kaplan Thaler, founder of Publicis New York, creating a likable jingle isn’t enough, no matter how clever the lyrics. “A jingle is not successful if you listen to it once and like it,” she told Forbes in 2010. “You have to listen to it and want to sing it. Essentially you become the advertiser for the brand.”

Kaplan Thaler is the person who helped create “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up,” the famous Toys “R” Us jingle. Later in the Forbes article, she said, “That same week it was on the air, I heard a little four-year-old singing it in the street, and I heard his mother say, ‘If you don’t stop singing that damn song we’re never going to make the bus.’ It had whatever it needed to be catchy to kids as well as their parents.”

A jingle, you see, doesn’t have to be pleasant to be effective. It’s about the way the jingle gets into the consumer’s brain and stays there. And it doesn’t take long to see the benefits if the jingle is a hit. In November 2014, we put our jingle on television in New York. By the end of the year, visits to our website were up almost 70 percent and donations increased by almost 55 percent.

Like it or hate it, the Kars4Kids jingle definitely stays with you. Which is why those Facebook users are crazy if they think we’re ever going to ditch our jingle.

We’re not going to stop dominating the airwaves, even when you want to smash your radio with a hammer.


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