Radio Results Blog

Attack of The Worms: Why Radio Advertising Jingles Work

Posted by Larry Julius on Wed, May 09, 2012 @ 04:02 PM

I have Red Robin stuck in my head and all I can say is, "YUM"! Until recently I had never been to a Red Robin There was not even a Red Robin within 500 miles of me. But for the last few years the restaurant chain's jingle would inexplicably appear in my consciousness out-of-nowhere and repeat in an endless loop: "Red Robin, YUM...Red Robin, YUM...Red Robin...YUM".

Since my only exposure to Red Robin, until now, has been to their commercial jingles, I must conclude: jingles work. The scientific community agrees.


Scientists have a name for it, "Earworms" or Involuntary Music Imagery (INMI). And it's why jingles work. According to neurologist Oliver Sacks (Robin Williams played him in the movie Awakenings), earworms are the evidence of "the overwhelming, and at times, helpless sensitivity of our brains Effective Radio Advertisingto music". Researchers at Dartmouth and The University of Cincinnati have discovered that earworms thrive in our "phonological loop", a short-term memory system located in the brain's audio cortex.

According to the Quad, Boston University's online magazine, the auditory cortex is located in the temporal lobe, an area of the brain affiliated with short-term memory, specifically verbal short-term memory. The phonological loop is best described as a “short loop of recording tape that continuously stores a small amount of auditory information,” such as the chorus of a song. While most information is processed and then forgotten or stored as long term memory, songs appear to remain in the short-term memory for a longer period of time. Dr. James Kellaris of the University of Cincinnati believes a cause for the earworms’ endurance may be that “certain pieces of music [jingles] may have properties that excite an abnormal reaction in the brain.” These extraordinary qualities compel the attention of the brain, forcing it to repeat the song in the phonological loop. Similarly, Kellaris has found that the repetition does not remove the song [jingle] from the phonological loop, but increases the length of its presence, thus creating the cognitive itch.

Earworms Are A Function of Repetition

“The effectiveness of a jingle is a function of number of exposures, but the magic number depends on the complexity of the information to be learned,” Kellaris said. “The magic number is also hard to determine because if the jingle becomes an earworm, it will benefit from free air time inside people’s heads.” Kellaris goes on to say, “A good jingle is not necessarily one that people like,” said Kellaris. “A good jingle is one that does the job for which it is designed, such as … burning a phone number into brains.”

Three Tips For Feeding the Worms: Keys To An Effective Jingle

  • Keep the message simple. This reduces the number of exposures to provoke the worms. Example: "Red Robin...Yum"!
  • Worms love alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds) and assonance (repetition of vowel sounds). Example: "I want my baby back baby back, baby back...
  • Worms thrive on unusual time signatures and tempo. Example: "It's better in the Bahamas" is in 12/8 time as opposed to 4/4 time prevalent in pop-music

Not only are jingles effective, they are relatively inexpensive to produce. Depending on the complexity of the production a professional jingle can cost between $3,500 and $10,000. A good jingle can last a lifetime and can be used across a company’s entire branding platform including radio and TV advertising, online advertising, and telephone on-hold messages.

I could write more about jingles, but I have an overwhelming urge to go to Red Robin now.


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Tags: Radio Commercial, Tips, Jingles