What Separates a Commercial Jingle and a Pop Song?

The process of making a club hit and the perfect commercial jingle aren’t that different. Both require knowledge about timing and having an ear for catchiness. Both are made by professional composers and songwriters. Both are very likely to get stuck in your head for years to come. And guess what else? Barry Manilow made commercial jingles before he ever made popular music.

The difference is this: commercial jingles are selling a brand and product or service directly to the listener–Kit Kat bars, insurance, a phone number to call after spilling something on your carpet. Popular music sells the artist’s brand and an identifier for the listener. A pop song can be incorporated into the listeners’ identity, even though that identifier is shared by millions of others.

This theory is backed up by the recent trend of popular songs becoming theme songs for commercials. Applause by Lady Gaga being used to back up Kia’s hamsters, Sia’s Move Your Body plays throughout a Lexus commercial, and much more than you may have noticed. Companies are using popular music the same way they would use a commercial jingle, but that’s where the similarities end.

A commercial jingle is incredibly useful when you need someone to remember something as they would remember a song. Stanley Steamer’s jingle gets you to remember their name, number, and service—meanwhile, all Applause may have you remember is hamsters or possibly just Lady Gaga herself. And if you don’t like the song…then what? You’ll have a negative connotation with the ad and the brand. A commercial jingle focuses the consumers’ memory on the company’s brand alone, rather than splitting it with the artist’s brand.

M&M’s are blurring the line even further by commissioning Aloe Blacc and Zedd to update the M&M’s jingle Candyman, which is both a popular commercial jingle and a popular song played on the radio.

Commercial jingles and popular music are very similar in the way they are made, but very different in the way they perform in the advertising landscape.