Music Makes It Memorable

June 18, 2012 | blog | By Mike Sullivan

Music is no Holy Grail for advertisers, but when it’s skillfully integrated into message delivery for the right product or service, music can work magic for memory.

“You deserve a break today.”

“My bologna has a first name …”

“I’d like to buy the world a Coke …”

The number of people who can hum along with these famous jingles is amazing, but the truly fantastic fact is that none of these 70s tunes has been broadcast commercially in the last 40 years. There’s a reason music works so well, and it’s summarized nicely in a study from Duke University:

“Music provides a very powerful retrieval cue. Music is more than just an additional piece of information, it is an integrated cue that provides information about the nature of the text (advertiser). The music defines the length of lines, words and phrases, identifies the number of syllables, sets the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables within the text (advertiser’s message). Thus, the music acts as a frame within which the text (message) is tightly fit. That frame can connect words at encoding, limit retrieval search, as well as constrain guessing or recreation at retrieval.” (Hecker, 1984)

In other words, music is a powerfully connective communications tool. But like any sophisticated tool, using music effectively for advertising requires careful collaboration between marketers, copywriters, lyricists, composers, and audio engineers. In rare celebrated cases, one dude in a room delivers a gem, but those exceptions validate the rule.


In 2005, our team designed a jingle for Stanley Steemer’s 800 booking number to aid recall, a perfect application for a low-interest category. We simply needed people to remember the phone number when they decided it was time to clean their carpet. The resulting, “Call 1-800-STEEMER, Stanley Steemer gets carpets cleaner,” jingle helped lift sales to record levels over four successive years. The melodic structure of the original jingle was carefully engineered to serve as a mnemonic device for enhancing recall of the 800-number, and it worked very well.

So, when Stanley Steemer changed the jingle last year, we watched with interest. The new “carpet guys” TV spots rotated heavily featuring a new jingle at the end. But, recently, the spots featuring this new jingle were dropped. Why? While we don’t know for certain, we do know that the rhythmical pattern of the new jingle completely defeated its originally intended use as a recall device. Our guess is that, although amusing, the campaign simply didn’t generate calls, and sales suffered. Poor sales are the first reason campaigns are changed. The second is agency or client boredom.

The catchy, connective nature of great jingles belies the complexity of the process for creating them. Another researcher put it this way:

“Obviously, music only aids recall when the lyrics are as clearly understood when they are sung as when they are spoken. In addition, it is important that the text match the music in terms of rhythmical structure, stress patterns, phrasing and points of emphasis. In order to be memorable, the music should also have a simple form with a basic pattern of ascents and descents, and a clear rhythmical pattern. These musical factors should facilitate learning of the musical score as a frame or retrieval cue.” (Wallace, 1992)

The point is, experts always make difficult tasks look easy, but it requires true collaboration among talented people with varied expertise to make music a magical component of an ad campaign.

As a research director for ad agency giant Y&R so aptly explained in his study, “Music may well be the single most stimulating component of advertising, and neither the diagnosticians nor the testers are giving it sufficient attention or credit.”

Learn more about our commitment to making music the right way at Luminous Sound.

advertisingadvertising recalljinglesmarketingmusic and persuasionMusic in advertising

Mike Sullivan

President at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency


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