Three years ago I met the leadership team of a consumer marketing major where I made a presentation about the concept of sonic branding (also known as sound or audio branding). I shared with them concepts of sonic identity and some globally emerging principles of how to use sound in branding. They were polite but I think at the end of the presentation they thought that I was a freak!
Thankfully, things are beginning to look different now. It is nice to see that the idea of marketers using music to aid brand building is gaining traction. It is about time too, since sound has been used ever since radio came into prominence. And many know that our auditory receptors are second only to our visual sensory receptors. Marketers, therefore, ought not to ignore the impact that sound can make for a brand.
One of the key areas of focus in audio branding is jingles (some of the others being ambient sound, signature tunes, web sounds, mobile sounds and the like). Jingles appeared on the radio in the '20s and played a major part in product advertising for the next six decades, reaching their peak in the West around the economic boom of the '50s-'60s. In India jingles stayed with us in a big way on radio till the '80s. The jingle was an advertising phenomenon that everyone in the family could hum in unison and in their own spaces. Even as TV became commonplace, it did nothing to damage the popularity of the jingle.
Over the years, I have asked senior Indian advertising and marketing professionals about jingles and whether they are still relevant in today's context. While most say that jingles (with catchy lyrics or tune) are heard much less compared to signature tunes (such as Airtel, Intel and Britannia), few believe that jingles will die - and none respond without mentioning four or five of their favourite jingles from the '80s and '90s. Nostalgia, I'd say!
Audio branding experts say that there are about a dozen ways in which music can be used for branding. They place jingles in a space called 'Music for Advertising' which is unique and quite different from some of the other spaces such as 'Ambient Sounds' or 'Digital Sounds' (for both the internet and mobile).
Music in Advertising
There are usually four ways in which music is used in advertising today.
Brand signature tunes: They are very short, usually not more than five to six notes. These are difficult to hum (with the exception of Intel that forces you to join in). Any musician will tell you that this is probably the most difficult composition challenge. However, in recent times, there have been attempts at longer 15-30 second signature tunes with repetition for greater stickiness (Airtel, being a case in point). This makes them almost like a jingle without words.
Jingles/Songs: Jingles are what consumer brands have used for most part of last century and many of them still echo in our heads. The use of songs is getting more popular these days. The distinction between a jingle and a song is that a song does not have a 'praise the brand' section. The Hutch song or Close-Up's Paas aao naa, Cadbury's Khush hai zamana', Lux's recent Sohne se bhi sohna lage, are examples of songs.
Background track: The background track's role is to simply accentuate the messaging and no one is supposed to remember the track.
Sign-off track: A sign-off track is one where the play is on the brand name and sometimes the tagline. It is used in one part of the track - usually at the end. Gillette and Nescafe have used the sign-off track very effectively over the years.
Finding the right sound
Sound plays a major role as a brand mnemonic and that is why the subject is receiving so much attention now. The issue of mnemonics has, over the years, been heavily explored by psychologists, scientists and advertisers alike. James Kellaris at the University of Cincinnati has devoted much of his research to 'catchy' music and the phenomenon of 'earworms', which is a name for commercial jingles that get stuck in one's head. He says simplicity, repetitiveness and some incongruity or twist are essential elements for any successful brand sound mnemonic - be it a jingle or a tune. However, other recent research suggests that not all jingles or tunes that have the above traits are successful. For many people, almost any song can become an earworm and it really depends on an individual's preferences. What else could explain a mainstream song like Dus Bahaane karke legayi dil being modified by Lux into something like Dus rupaye mey legaya mera dil and still working for the masses - or Khuda jane ke main fida hoon working for Fair and Lovely?
Jingle all the way
In recent times, there has been a decline in jingles in India, as in the rest of the world. Why has that happened?
The answer to this question is not very simple. Firstly, jingles as we knew them (Washing powder Nirma, Jab main chhota bachcha tha and others) are heard less and less. However, the use of songs in commercials has not declined. On the contrary it has grown - we hear about half-a-dozen commercial renditions of a hit Bollywood number along with the 'original' composition. And new ways of using sound are proliferating. In recent times a few brands have also used one basic hypothesis of sound branding very well. This hypothesis is about the signature sound mnemonic having the same number of syllables as the brand name. It works very well for brands which have longer names. DoCoMo is a very good example. I have not seen any research for the DoCoMo sound mnemonic, but I asked a class of 105 B School students at Manipal about it and they all happily sang it out loud for me.
There is a unique 'India' problem with jingles. The only common language across India is still English and if you remember any of the famous jingles from the '80s and '90s, while they worked beautifully in Hindi, they were a disaster when translated into English (Nirma tried it and failed, Thums Up was still tolerable but nothing like Toofani Thanda). Not surprisingly, Bajaj did not translate Hamara Bajaj to English. So, today when you are looking at a pan-India footprint, you can either use English or create a song that can be translated into many languages (Nirma did successfully translate their jingle into many Indian languages, though even if it failed with English).
Usually a catchy jingle can be conceived in one language - any copywriter will tell you that.
There is a widespread belief among marketers that jingles (not songs) have a certain class associated with them. Only mass (read lower SEC) will take to a 'catchy' colloquial jingle, while the youth will adopt a mixed-language jingle (Hinglish, Tamlish, Benglish), while an evolved audience will appreciate songs or commercials that have a Hollywood or Bollywood movie soundtrack. I personally find these conjectures quite hollow as there are enough examples to counter this. However, what is true is that like everything else, jingles, too, are evolving and will continue to evolve to cater to the new taste and demands of consumers.
The use of sound in branding will only increase in popularity given that sound is extremely relevant in digital marketing. The re-emergence of radio is also likely to contribute to its growth.
Jingles will evolve and continue to exist, whereas, songs and signature tunes will continue to grow and get more attention from brand marketers. And audio branding will finally get the attention it deserves in India as it has done in the rest of the world.
No, we don't hear too many jingles anymore and I think that's a sign of an evolving industry. We are beginning to score for a film, rather than just slapping on a jingle, which is usually out of sync with the visual in terms of tone and emotion and nothing more than a sales pitch set to music.
There were a few jingles that lifted the emotional tone of a film to another level altogether. Hamara Bajaj Yeh Zameen Yeh Asamaan being the best example. But for the most part, all I can say is thank God the days of Washing Powder Nirma, Doodh si Safedi, Nirma se aiye are over!
Executive Creative Director, The Republic
Jingles aren't passť yet. We just haven't seemed to crack newer expressions, tunes, melodies or compositions. Music and jingles are the things that keep coming back to us, and easily and effortlessly keep reminding us of brands and products. Personally I love the Madhya Pradesh Tourism jingle. That's pretty new. What about Nakka Mukka for The Times of India Chennai, Happydent film, Nike traffic jam film, Vodafone dog track, the Limca track, the recent Samsung metro and Samsung Diwali film?
With radio coming back as a strong advertising medium, you couldn't ask for something better to rejuvenate jingles. There are newer ideas and newer interpretations that keep coming up. It's a pity that we now look at more sound design than music within commercials.
Somehow, a jingle also has an unfortunate, 'dated' feel to it. Jingles are not out of favour. It's just that there's no room or need for them in the kind of films that we make today. For a great jingle to come through, you'd ideally need all of 30 seconds to build the tune.
Most of the current commercials are story- and idea-based commercials. There's also another trend that's catching on. Where popular sound tracks and chartbuster songs are bought and films are cut to those. Remember Jai Ho and Congress?
National Creative Director, Cheil Worldwide
For me, personally powerful jingles like Nirma, Bajaj, I love you Rasna, Only Vimal, You fascinate me and many more, are irreplaceable with the signature tunes. The ones I have mentioned tell me about an emotion in a lyrical manner. I've grown up with these and often used them in my lingo. It's like our Hindi film songs we have a memory with each of the classic songs and often dip into it. Hence jingles will continue to be my favourite over signature tunes.
Executive Vice-President, Godfrey Phillips India
Let's recall Mark Twain's statement, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated" before concluding that jingles are passe.
True, jingles are less common - but maybe baselines change so often that there is no opportunity for long-lasting 'brand songs'. Coke and Pepsi have changed several baselines in recent years. But several brands do continue to use jingles: MDH masalas, Nirma and Close-Up.
The use of fewer rhymes in brand sign-offs - with or without music, reflects today's more conversational, casual style of speaking. But consider some recent TVCs: DoCoMo's 'Friendship Express', Aishwarya and Abhishek for Lux, Fevicol's Moonchwali and Limca. All use music but not as a classic jingle but as a sign-off couplet incorporating the brand name and promise.
And finally, let's remember the goal of advertising is not to create jingles, but to create memorable, differentiated brands. In this, music remains a powerful tool. Airtel, Britannia, Titan, even Intel have created memorable audio signature properties. And become brands that I recognise even with my eyes shut!
Music and humour are two essential ingredients for any ad and hence it can never go out of favour. With an enviable repertoire of jingles in the past - Nirma, Bajaj, Maruti and others - today the task is no longer easy. The challenge is to cross the benchmark that has already been set in the past. Hence more effort is required to churn out clutter breaking jingles. Music being the core of any ad, we see jingles being effectively replaced by signature tunes and songs. The recent examples being Airtel, Coca-Cola, Limca, Alto and our Jeetay Raho signature song. However, in a nascent category like life insurance it is more important to establish the category and bring out the features effectively. Further, with the increase in the number of players in the category and share of voice, retaining salience in the consumer's mind by differentiating one brand from the other is a real challenge. Today, the emphasis is more on consumer insight to develop communication messages.
Senior Vice-President and Head - Marketing, ICICI Prudential Life
Since the Tata DoCoMo theme and the Close-Up, Paas Aao Na jingle are two of the most recent themes I'm responsible for, I have to say that the jingle hasn't died. It has reinvented itself.
Nowadays, music plays a crucial part in the brand identity and offers great value for money. Fortunately, advertising has evolved to the point where we don't have to stuff a jingle into the brand identity. We are now in the age of the 'Brand Sound'. We can now design a sonic palette as a broad template for a brand. This serves as a blueprint that keeps the brand identity intact while letting the sound of the brand evolve along with the brand itself. Also, in today's digital age, where new media are constantly evolving, avenues for the usage of music have multiplied. In such a scenario, a singular jingle becomes tedious, repetitive and irritating.
While the DoCoMo theme is based on graphic sound (one layer at a time), the palette we created for Close-Up is cool, young and urban. These are both jingle-based tracks. A jingle is now part of the 'sound' of the brand and all the better for it!
(With inputs from Kai Bronner, leading Audio Branding expert from Germany and Sound Lounge - Sound and music consultancy based in the UK).
Shouvik Roy is the founder director of Brand Planet Elephant based in New Delhi. He is a member of the International Community for Audio Branding and has to his credit the first ever case on Audio branding emerging from Asia featured in the worldwide Journal for Audio Branding.