Brainwashes whiter 

1 Sep 2001 0 tbs.pm/1668 Article text released under the Creative Commons Attribution license Media copyrighted Report an error in this article

Kif Bowden-Smith is driven slowly mad by musical jingles

Matt Monroe sang…

“Zal is freshness with a zing!

Everyday, yes, Zal’s the thing!

The dreamy, steamy smell of pine!

Zal disinfectant every time!

Zal hates germs, just kicks them out!

Leaves the smell of pine about!

You’ll notice the difference with everything!

Zal is freshness with a zing!”

Children of the sixties – or ‘baby boomers’ as sociologists are wont to call them – carry with them an unusual legacy to accompany their memories of black and white television, President Kennedy and the Beatles. As independent television spread through the regions in the late fifties and early sixties, children were brought face-to-face with the power of the advertising jingle.

Imported from American commercial radio of the forties, these were ITV’s secret weapon in its first decade of advertising. The only screen commercials with which the British public was familiar – in the cinema – had been the hard sell with relatively little use of jingles. By the time Lew Grade, Sidney Bernstein and Howard Thomas were in full swing, jingles were hitting the ear from every angle.

As a baby boomer now in his forties, I remain haunted – nay, assailed – by the jingles of my youth, which play in my head without invitation on an almost daily basis (“One, two, three, four, reasons why Julie Andrews likes Ryvita!”). Whether the original advertising agencies intended these children to be humming the tunes 40 years later is not on record.

But, as many of the products concerned are no longer available, one suspects that their efforts peaked too late. (“In days of old, fruits were sold that had to be washed by hand, but now they are sold ready washed by Whitworths. Whitworths are a girl’s best friend!”). In the advertising world of today, jingles themselves are passé. Some have survived (“A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play!”) whilst others have been hurriedly modified to suit the advertising standards authorities (“Malteasers, the chocolate with the less fattening centre!” becoming a more truthful though less fun “Malteasers, the chocolate with the crisp, lighter centre!”).

The jingles of the sixties were, of course, the nursery rhymes of the electrical age. Sung in the playground, hummed in the classroom, even used in freeform essay punishments, they were the very essence of capitalism, worming their way permanently into your brain. A peculiar feature of 50s advertising, which credited viewers with the intelligence of a peasant, required the product name to be endlessly repeated (“Remember the name, Persil!”). This habit so infected speech patterns that even today, on stating a brand name, one can be tempted to repeat it endlessly.

A particular feature of 50s and 60s copywriting was twisting the wording to make it rhyme (“Eveninks and morninks I drink Warninks! Warninks Advocaat!”). Or the even more absurd tendency – to state the utterly meaningless with sublime conviction (“Eden Vale yogurt is the young idea!”). The implication of the deranged state of a shopper’s mind was never far from the surface. The suggestion that housewives – for it was always housewives – thought of nothing but product was strong. (“Always ask for Newfarm, Newfarm eggs, fresh from the farm for you!”). While the equally offensive suggestion – that husbands were always on hand to sort things out – was also a constant refrain. Some jingles have entered the folklore of the nation. “Don’t forget the Fruit Gums, Mum!” and “Beanz meanz Heinz!” always there to remind us of the power of marketing.

But it is the poetry of the obscure that stays with me (“Look into the jar, it’s a deep rich brown, ’cause there’s coffee pot freshness all the way down!”). These rhymes were the mantras of a secular age. Questions, statements of loyalty, a form of hypnosis (“All the family loves Carnation, ’cause it’s creamy rich!”).

Whether to laugh or cry is never entirely clear. I am both the prisoner of these nightmares and reminded of the comfort of a sixties childhood while in their soothing embrace. Even my gravestone may one day bear the footnote “Ricicles are twicicles as nicicles!”.

Kif Bowden-Smith

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