Advertising Music – Why So Catchy?

Oh what a feeling, To-yo-ta! I can never get Toyota’s eight note melody out of my head, and it’s probably playing in yours now too. My apologies, but really you should be blaming your brain. After all, your grey matter is what plays advertising music on a continuous loop. That means, whether you like it or not, Toyota is at the front of your mind, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. I hope you’re in the market for a new car.

What Makes Advertising Music Catch On?

But how does advertising music lodge itself in your brain in the first place? Evidence shows that the critical factors are simple melodies and repetition. Consider the songs you find yourself singing in the shower or car – I know you do it, and there’s no shame in it! Chances are many were smash hits and if you dig into their structure, you’ll find that the catchiest parts are the choruses – the parts of the song that are repeated the most and with the simplest melodies. This is no coincidence – simple melodies and repetition translates into catchiness and sales.

The same “repeat a simple melody” rule applies in the Toyota jingle. It’s just eight notes long – one for each syllable of “oh what a feeling, Toyota!” More importantly, you’ll hear it over and over again on a daily basis through YouTube, the television, the radio and maybe even hummed by someone in the street who’s also fallen victim to this super catchy piece of advertising music!

What Makes Advertising Music Stick Around?

So, simple melodies and repetition make songs get in our heads. What makes them stay there has solid research behind it. The scientific name for when part of a song catches on is INMI – Involuntary Music Imagery. According to neurologist Oliver Sacks, INMI is the evidence of the “overwhelming, and at times, helpless sensitivity of our brains to music.”

This incredible sensitivity can be attributed to where it is stored in the brain: the temporal lobe – the area associated with verbal short-term memory. Researchers at Dartmouth and the University of Cincinnati have discovered that INMI thrives in the phonological loop of the temporal lobe, best described as a short loop of recording tape that continuously stores a small amount of auditory information. So, while most information is processed and forgotten or stored as long term memory, songs remain in the short term memory, playing in our head over a longer period of time. Before a song has a chance to be forgotten, chances are you’ll see, hear or otherwise be reminded of the jingle (again, I apologise), and your poor brain will hit rewind and loop right back to the start.

Here’s the bottom line: if you’re coming up with a jingle for your business, forget about Led Zeppelin-grade epics, Jazz Fusion masterworks or classical pieces that would make Mozart rise from the grave and take notice. All you need is a handful of notes arranged in a simple melody – keep it under eight notes. Then get your advertising music out there – ensure as many people hear it as often as possible. After that? Well, just let the brain do the rest!