As Commercial Jingles Fade, One Fish Still Fries In Memory

In a hiccup of bent genius, Joey Auch and composing partner, Josh Peck, downed three beers and came up with the "Gimme That Filet O' Fish" song for a McDonald's commercial in 2009. The catchy beat of a wall-mounted fish talking trash went viral. Rolling Stone magazine praised their "giddy idiocy" and the two appeared on "Rachael Ray." A nation was hooked.

Auch and Peck perhaps didn't know it then, but they were riding the tail end of advertising history. Well, at least history as shaped by such indelible lyrics as "My bologna has a first name, it's O-S-C-A-R" and "You deserve a break today..."

The jingle -- that 30-second product ditty which lodges in your brain -- is chirping toward extinction, some experts believe.

"Jingle writing in its purest form is certainly less common these days," Auch said.

Don't think so? Try to recite a memorable one written in the three years since Auch and Peck wrote theirs.

The traditional jingle surrendered its primacy on Madison Avenue some time ago. It's been replaced by edgier ads with music that doesn't even mention the product's name. Or there are no words at all.

"I think creatively the jingle became confining, in a way," said John Alper, a commercial director and partner at a production company called apictures.

Even the golden-arched beneficiary of Auch and Peck's inspiration admits that jingles don't push product like they used to. "McDonald's has, for the most part, evolved away from the traditional advertising jingle, in favor of incorporating a more modern expression of contemporary music in our marketing efforts," said Mark Carlson, a senior creative director for McDonald's USA.

Despite the near-disappearance of the jingle in the recession, economic considerations haven't played a part, experts said. The trend toward advertisers co-opting popular radio hits to hawk their goods can be a lot more expensive. A jingle composer could be bought for as little as $10,000, while licensing an established song can cost millions, said Tim Kane, a former executive at McCann Erickson and J. Walter Thompson.

Blame the momentum shift on the 1980s. Advertisers discovered that using familiar pop hooks could evoke a more positive association with their product. Nike's purchase of the Beatles' "Revolution" and Michelob's of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight" helped shift the momentum.

"The artists felt they were no longer selling out," said Kane, now the executive vice president of Makovsky + Company public relations.

The development nearly spelled the end of a decades-long era during which the likes of Barry Manilow honed his chops on catch phrases such as "I am stuck on Band-Aids cause Band-Aid's stuck on me" and "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there."

But one ad man said the jingle isn't dead -- just resting. "At some point it will swing back," said Kent Feuerring, executive producer and partner at apictures. "Who knows when, where and how?"

Luden's cough drops is doing its part to try to resurrect the genre. The 130-year-old company recently launched a jingle contest that will pay the winner $2,500 and feature the entry on the brand's website. "We want to invigorate the brand and tap into the nostalgia of it while touching young consumers and engaging them," spokeswoman Stacey Bender said.

Nostalgia and jingle are now unavoidably linked. Chris Edwards, executive vice president at Arnold Worldwide, worked with Auch and Peck on "Filet O Fish," and said it was the closest he'd come to a jingle in 10 years. Carlson, the McDonald's executive, said the fast-food giant gave the green light to quirkiness because the Filet O Fish had more of a cult following.

"The singing fish idea was just silly enough for us to take a chance on some unexpected creative, and it ended up getting some real traction with consumers," he said. "You could say the jingle and the spots it appeared in have become cult classics."

Despite the overnight success, Auch and Peck didn't make out like the Hamburglar. Combined with the royalties they collected on the fish toy licensing, they made the equivalent of the price of four small fishing boats with a case of beer in them, they estimate. The sum pales in comparison to what they've earned for tampon commercials -- and a six-figure diet pill commercial for which Peck provided harmonic background.

These days, the two have their own company, Sons of Radio. They focus on composing music and songs for film and TV -- "Jane By Design" is a recent credit -- and they also pen numbers intended for major-label artists.

Commercial music takes up about 25 percent of their time, including the soundtrack for a recent American Express spot.

The two were recently asked to recreate a circa-1978 vibe for a jingle, but nothing came of it.

They know what it's like to connect, though, in a way that many ad composers may never experience again.

"It was just one of those things," Auch said. "You do all sorts of musical things in your career, and it's never the things you think are going to be popular."