CAN’T GET IT OUT OF MY HEAD: Gawen Rudder looks and listens to music and jingles in advertising

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Words are worthwhile. But jingles linger. Music has been part and parcel of branding since the days of crystal set radios, says Gawen Rudder, principal of The Knowledge Consultancy, Sydney


That’s precisely the idea. Words are worthwhile. But jingles linger. Music has been part and parcel of branding since the days of crystal set radios. From Aeroplane Jelly to Vegemite, the brand is the jingle and the jingle is the brand. From “I Like.…” to “Happy Little.…,” we complete the rest. Genius.

Try watching any of the John Lewis Christmas commercials to appreciate the lyrics of the selected songs and how they match with the TVC’s storyline. Okay Russel, let’s check out the Carlton Draught ‘Big Ad.’ It only works with the massive classical chants set to Carl Orff’s O Fortuna. The list goes on, like those 250,000 coloured balls rolling down Filbert Street in San Francisco for Sony. The ‘Balls’ commercial was all about colour, but it only came to life with the ‘Heartbeats’ soundtrack by Jose Gonzalez. In each case, the visuals are striking, copy might be captivating, however there is no denying the emotional impact of the music. When ear meets eye, it stays with you.

Returning to radio – the 1959 Vegemite jingle was written by J. Walter Thompson’s Alan Weekes, and arranged to its 6/8 marching style by Bob Gibson, a famed band leader of the day. His son David, of Weekes Morris Osborn and later Loud, told me he wished his dad had held the rights, as Mo & Jo did with C’mon Aussie, C’mon.

Their cricket anthem topped the charts in Australia for two weeks in February 1979. (And all these years later Jo re-recorded an updated version of the anthem – a feat that was only challenged by Down, Down. The song was produced and performed by Status Quo in the UK and spent a week on top of the charts in 1975. More than 35 years later, Big Red got an ageing Status Quo to rework the lyrics to recreate song for Coles, by adding and repeating (in case you’ve forgotten) prices are down. Both campaigns reflect the adage, ‘It’s sweet, sweet, sweet, to repeat, repeat, repeat.‘ Or, as one wit quipped: ‘Ad Infinitum.’

And who can forget McCann’s Dumb Ways to Die, written by John Mescall, with music, production and backing by Ollie McGill from The Cat Empire and performed by Emily Lubitz, lead vocalist of Tinpan Orange. Say jingle, think Mojo. And Mike Brady. His Up There Cazaly from 1979 has its origins as a war cry of World War II troops. (Ruckman Roy Cazaly played for St Kilda and South Melbourne in the 1920s and was renowned for his prodigious leap). Then of course there’s the legendary Les Gock and SongZu. Today, as you leaf through Campaign Brief, there’s ads for Bang Bang Studios, Final Sound, Nylon/Squeak E. Clean Studios, Rumble, Sonar and more.

Some agencies buy the rights to The Beach Boys, Beyoncé, and The Beatles classics and pay for the privilege. The problem is that old ‘Vampire Effect’ comes into play, and the music monsters the brand. McDonald’s build the music around the brand, as it did when it paid a cool US$6 million to The Neptunes and Justin Timberlake to launch their new 2002 strapline ‘I’m Lovin’ It.’ Macca’s still use songs with ‘love’ as background.


Allan Johnston, then at Hertz-Walpole, was asked to come up with an idea for Winfield: “We came up with this crazy idea to put Paul Hogan in a dinner suit and take the piss out of other cigarette ads.” Hogan arrived in his tuxedo. The Sydney Symphony Orchestra was brought in. Inhaling for the product shot, he gave out, “Let ‘er rip, Boris old son,” and the music swelled to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 5 in E Minor.

In an interview in 2006, Jo told me, “When the ad went to air, Jim [Walpole] told me the chairman of Rothmans, Sir Ronald Irish, phoned up and said: “Get that bloke [Paul Hogan] off the air, this is disgusting, he’s too rough, awful accent.” But when reminded how many packs they were selling, he said: “Well, maybe you can get him to speak a little better.”

On another note, and way back in 1965, Leo Burnett Chicago bundled most of a symphony orchestra’s musicians and their instruments (except the Steinway) on board a United Airlines wide-bodied Boeing. They played George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue – to colour-coordinate with the airline’s livery. Warner Music licensed the composition to United for a year at a reported US$300,000. It took off! And last time I transited at Terminal 1 at O’Hare International, Rhapsody was still being piped over the walkway.


Selecting a piece of music to match a category or reflect a brand’s attributes is an intuitive and special skill. Coupling Come Fly with Me would be an obvious choice, if it hadn’t been an over-used and obvious idea. Selecting I Still Call Australia Home for Qantas proved to be an inspired choice even if the line proved difficult to run in Japan, where the line was amended to ‘I feel at home in Australia’ or, ‘ Watashi wa ōsutoraria ni iru yō ni kanjimasu.’ A little more puzzling, was the choice by DDB to buy the rights to The Wind Beneath My Wings for Virgin. One wonders whether the flying blond wig was written for Advanced Hair Studio rather than the airline. Or was the agency tipping its lid to the flaxen locks of Sir Richard?

For me, the most moving use of contemporary music was the tribute to our Opera House – The Three Drunk Monkeys magic 4-plus-minute interpretation of Nick Cave’s ‘The Ship Song‘.

A ‘love job’ and a lovely song that I can’t get it out of my head.

“The Ship Song can induce emotions of love, lust and affection. If you listen to the song and no one is around to kiss or fondle, there is no shame in showing your affection to a soft pillow.”
Tony Dushane – author and screenwriter