An epiphanic smile appeared on Don Draper's face. Then came the first note of the most famous commercial of all time. Within 150 milliseconds (the time it takes humans to recognize a sound), viewers of the Mad Men finale learned Don was responsible for teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony.
Listeners to Portland radio first heard Coca Cola's "hilltop" commercial in 1971. And that's the time everyone watching Mad Men on May 17, 2015 was instantly transported back to as the iconic jingle unfurled.
So why do these musical bits of commercials get embedded in our brains and how can Maine small business owners benefit from the phenomenon?
How Jingles Worm Their Way Into Your Brain
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 to 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.”
Jingles are not only effective, they are relatively inexpensive to produce. Depending on the complexity of the production a professional jingle can cost a Maine small business owner 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.
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