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Where are the AdWords jingles?

I’ve been reading up on the history of media and advertising lately, including a book by Stephen Fox on the history of advertising called Mirror Makers. Fox’s core argument is that advertising strategies are cyclical over time, varying between straightforward, plain text advertising that describes the price and value of the product to atmospheric advertising that attempts to attract attention and build up the reputation of a brand. He includes lots of examples of early advertising, including the following jingles about “Sunny Jim” used to sell Force cereal in 1902:

Jim Dumps was a most unfriendly man,
who lived his life on the hermit plan;
In his gloomy way he’d gone through life,
And made the most of woe and strife;
Till Force one day was served to him —
Since then they’ve called him “Sunny Jim.”

Jim Dumps a little girl possessed,
Whom loss of appetite distressed;
“I des tan’t eat!” the child would scream;
Jim fixed a dish of Force and cream —
She tasted it — then joy for him —
She begged for more from “Sunny Jim.”

The Sunny Jim character became a national cultural icon through these jingles. “A giant likeness adorned the sides of two eleven-story buildings in New York,” says Fox, “Songs, musical comedies and vaudeville skits were written about him. Anybody with a cheery personality and the name of James risked being called Sunny Jim.” Unfortunately, the jingles did not help sell much cereal, and they were eventually replaced by straightforward descriptions of the nutritional and economic advantages of the cereal. Some other jingle campaigns in the era worked, others like Force did not.

These jingles were published in written form, obviously because there was no radio in 1900. The idea of advertising as poetry seems quaint today, but actually more possible in the age of the text only AdWords format. It’s striking that AdWords today consists only of straightforward sells. See for instance the following AdWords ads currently running for ‘cereal:’

The strict text limits of the format might be a factor in discouraging jingles, but that same constraint could also serve as a creative force. It would certainly be possible to create an interesting, compelling jingle campaign one line of text at a time, and such an approach would encourage folks to pay more attention to the easily ignored AdWords boxes.

One possibility is that advertisers feel they don’t need jingles to capture attention when their ads are well targeted, as with AdWords. Another is that companies advertise directly through AdWords rather than through an ad agency and so don’t have the access to creative advertising expertise. Another is that AdWords is just young and hasn’t hit the jingle cycle yet.

Whatever the reason, an effect of the lack of AdWords jingles is that the cultural impact of AdWords is mostly limited to the impact the ads have on the creation of content, rather than on the content of the ads themselves. This is a significant divergence from most other modern mass media forms of advertising, in which the ads themselves are arguably as impactful as their impact on the content supported by them.


  1. Jim Morris wrote:

    I think the genius of Google’s model is that the ads on search pages are minimized so that one must click them to learn more. It seems to serve eveyone’s interest:
    1. The reader’s screen is not crowded with undesired ads.
    2. The advertiser is motivated to give an honest, short description so the clicker-through is genuinely interested.
    3. Google is motivated to get a lot of likely ads on the page so that a click-through happens.
    Of course, this is an entirely ultilitarian viewpoint.

    Posted on 14-Nov-08 at 7:02 pm | Permalink
  2. hal wrote:

    These are all good reason that straightforward pitches work well on adwords. But the downside of this sort of advertising is that it’s boring and no one reads it. Certainly that is an acknowledged problem with adwords stuff — it’s so prevalent and so unassuming that it’s really easy just to filter it out completely. The traditional counterweight to this problem in advertising is jingle type advertising that does a worse job of the direct sell but attracts more attention.

    I think it’s an open (and important) question we haven’t seen (as far as I know) these sort of jingle advertising on adwords yet. The most obvious result is that the ads in themselves lack the cultural impact of the jingles. Traditional forms of advertising have effect not only through the content that they support but also through the content of the ads themselves — encouraging consumers to associate cars with power, perfumes with beauty, and laundry detergent with a happy home life. These messages have historically played an important role in shaping our society but are absent from adwords.

    Posted on 17-Nov-08 at 10:24 am | Permalink