Music has the power to shift and sway how we feel. Songs are closely tied to emotions — music can make us feel motivated, relaxed, scared, triumphant, or even a little annoyed. In fact, our limbic systems — the part of the brain that controls our behaviors and emotions — actually light up when we listen to music. While not everyone reacts the same exact way to a specific song, beat or lyric, there are certain genres that undoubtedly impact how we feel — and brands have taken note of this for decades.

Advertising can seem like a nuisance, especially when watching your favorite show or waiting for a video to load. In fact, more than half (64%) of people purposely try to avoid ads on ad-supported streaming services. Having to listen to an ad may be a little annoying, but how about a commercial without any rhythm? A straightforward ad merely talking at you is never fun to watch, and a lot of effort is put into creating the jingles we regularly take for granted. Here, we’ll look at the history of music in advertising via the jingle, the crossover between jingle and modern advertising, and the ads you likely can’t forget because of the music used in them.

A History of Music in Advertising

Have you had your Wheaties this morning? The world's premiere advertising jingle was first heard on the radio for the Breakfast of Champions on Christmas Eve in 1926. Obviously void of moving images and visuals, radio provided the (now) General Mills brand with an opportunity for prime sponsored advertising. Consumers were already listening to music, so why break up the mood? By using a friendly, whimsical song in between aired radio broadcast segments, Wheaties was able to reach an audience without disrupting their radio experience.

The vocal-only quartet asked consumers to try the crunchy bran-based cereal, belting out a plethora of reasons that explained why Wheaties is the ideal cereal to buy. The radio jingle, which can be heard here, posed an initial question to the audience: “Have you tried Wheaties?” And proceeded sing out exactly why Wheaties is a great choice all year long. “The kiddies never tire of them” and “neither will you” addressed both the younger and older key demographics General Mills was hoping to capture. But what makes this jingle so memorable, aside from its historical relevance? It's singsong fashion. Instead of talking at the shopper, Wheaties made their selling points a hummable and memorable ditty.

Other brands quickly saw the value of the jingle. The radio jingle for Eskimo Pie is incredibly hokey. It touts the frozen treat’s versatility (“good for a party, a dessert, or a snack”) while also generally being a song that rhymes. By ending each line with a similar sound, the jingle becomes easier to remember, and the product, in turn, harder to forget.

Roughly ten years later, Pepsi followed suit and introduced its first jingle. Instead of a radio advertisement, Pepsi went with an animated commercial advertisement that likely ran in movie theatres. Entitled “Nickel, Nickel,” Pepsi’s cartoon touched on all of the key reasons consumers would find Pepsi worth the buy while also highlighting drink’s main selling points. It’s twelve ounces, it hits the spot, and it only costs a nickel. Sounds good to us.

Has the Jingle Been Canceled?

Have you ever walked around your house humming how you wish you were an Oscar Mayer wiener? What about, “like a good neighbor, State Farm is there”? Jingles do still exist. However, modern commercial advertisements have been known to opt for nostalgic and popular hit music for their ads, as opposed to original jingles.

Sure, as mentioned, brands like State Farm, McDonald’s, Chili’s, Sara Lee, Folgers, and Nationwide, among many others, still rely on the singsong jingle to tell the story of their products and brands. The cause of this shift from jingle to popular music, however, is largely attributed to the late pop singer Michael Jackson — and Pepsi.

Pepsi's 1984 commercial featuring Michael Jackson and Alfonso Ribeiro left a seismic mark on the industry. If there's a downside to jingles, it's that they try too hard. They’re an in-your-face yet auditory reminder to go out and shop. It’s annoying — and cheesy. It wasn’t really until 1984 when Michael Jackson produced a version of his hit single “Billie Jean” for Pepsi, that a true crossover between the jingle and modern advertisement utilizing popular music emerged. 

Modern Advertisements That Strike a Chord

Association is key, here. As we know, music is closely tied to how we feel. When we’re feeling down, we may opt for a song that resonates with a similarly sad feeling. Alternatively, when we’re feeling upbeat, we are more likely to put on a high-energy song with a fast tempo and cheerful or hopeful lyrics. Over time, brands have seen the value that these musical associations produce, and they've been quick to take advantage. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the best advertising commercials and how those brands are using old and new hits to sell products to consumers.

Chevrolet Truck Commercial: “Like a Rock”

This 1992 commercial used Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band's hit song “Like a Rock” to express Chevrolet’s solid and reliable foundation. The popular '80s song struck a chord with audiences with its expression of strength, durability, hope, and belief. It’s no wonder why Chevy selected this hit for their major brand campaign.

Samsung Galaxy S22 Commercial: “Unstoppable”

Other than the Galaxy device itself, Sia’s “Unstoppable” is the true star of Samsung’s noteworthy commercial. The advertisement doesn’t techincally say anything — there is no narrator or person's voice propping up Galaxy S22, telling the consumer what to do or how to feel. Instead, Samsung uses typography (or key selling points) that flash on the screen, while the popular hit plays in the background. Even if you’re an iPhone user, it’s hard not to find the commercial fun and motivational. The brand association is clear: with the Samsung Galaxy, you, too, can be unstoppable.

Airbnb  Commercial: “Bonnie & Clyde”

This commercial for Airbnb plays Jay-Z and Beyonce's popular "Bonnie and Clyde" song to the tune of photographs from a real-life couple who have used the vacation rental and home-sharing service. It’s a perfect combination. A slideshow of photos from the couple’s vacation flash on the screen as the song rolls in the background, allowing the viewer to associate the brand (and future stays) with the ride-or-die tune.

Spotify Commercial: “My House”

In a literal and metaphorical move, the music streaming platform Spotify aptly used Flo Rida’s song “My House” to express its versatility, playing the song as two people drive along a road inside a truck with a full house in tow. Released during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which saw a plethora of Americans seeking to move to Canada, the commercial poked fun while maintaining a political statement, telling consumers that if they decide to move to Canada, they can let “My House” be their soundtrack. It also goes back to the idea that music can articulate everything and any emotion — even moving homes!

As you can see, tunes have traditionally played a role in the way brands communicate with consumers. Music inspires. Music also is catchy, which is why brands from Pepsi to Chevrolet have incorporated popular music into their advertising campaigns. 

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