Most people can hum a jingle they heard twenty… thirty… forty years ago. Some advertising campaigns had such potency they were able to persist as part of the national consciousness for decades; sometimes outliving the very businesses they were advertising.
Yet, every year millions of other advertising campaigns successfully serve their purpose, then—to all intents and purposes—cease to exist.
So, where does all the old advertising go?
Historic ad campaigns often sit as keepsakes or reference materials in the archives of the agencies that created them. But agencies come and go. Perhaps a bitter creative might chuck away work when a relationship with a client goes sour. People move on, and the relevance of past projects is lost to time. Brands themselves inevitably get dissolved during mergers and acquisitions or otherwise fail and vanish. When banks and creditors pick over the carcass of a dead business, the deceased’s back catalogue of advertising is of no financial value— all too often decades of ad creative will be buried in a skip alongside the broken office furniture.
Historic advertising frequently falls through the cracks; either because its significance is undervalued, or the person throwing it away doesn’t consider they could well be holding the only remaining copy!
Again, and again, we don’t realise the significance of something until it’s out of reach forever. Remember that cheesy, catchy, jingle you’d sing along to with mum whenever it came on the radio in the car? The one for that long-gone department store whose name escapes you. How did the tune go again?
Advertising is an important part of our cultural heritage yet—by its very nature—it is created for a short-term purpose; its value is spent within weeks. Ads are a snapshot of time. This is especially true of TV ads, radio ads, and jingles. They are inherently ‘of their time’ because they attached themselves to whatever was the trend in the moment. Individual ads were never designed for longevity. Brand identities and flagship products are designed for the long-haul, but the ads that sell them are usually fleeting. If a campaign doesn’t perform to expectation, it will be canned—never to be seen again—and replaced with fresh creative, almost overnight. On a more practical level, TV and radio campaigns were mastered on formats that are now obsolete— and if the equipment to reproduce the recordings is no longer readily available, it’s just a useless old tape: Content unknown. Chuck it out.
JMS Group launched in 1983 (as John Mountford Studios) to serve the commercial production needs of the exploding local radio industry. At peak throughput—during the mid-90s—four studios worked in tandem to produce radio spots and jingles for more than 60 radio stations*. We have produced more than 100,000 radio spots during almost forty years of production. The most memorable of our creations—those notable campaigns that managed to run in various forms for years—were built around bespoke tracks of music, jingles.
The lyrics of many jingles were—to be candid—somewhat left field, but that has always been real beauty of the genre. Songs written about builders’ merchants, car dealerships, or dry cleaners are—by their nature—destined to be endearingly eccentric. Jingles were created with the specific intention to be catchy and memorable, to get inside listeners’ heads, to keep the client’s name—to use a marketing term— ‘front of mind’.
Despite enjoying decades of immense popularity, jingles—in their original long form variety—have somewhat fallen out of fashion (though some of our clients do cherish and frequently broadcast jingles we produced for them many years ago). Bespoke musical identities are still enormously powerful tools but today’s ‘sonic idents’ are often pared back to just a few notes, or a memorable vocalisation of the brand name.
As advertising strategies—and music trends—changed, most of our clients shelved their use of longform jingles. Also, by the simple passage of decades, many of the advertisers for which we produced jingles went out of business. In our archive we held the last scraps of many hundreds of perished brands.
In 2021 we decided the most culturally significant part of our vast archive—hundreds of local radio jingles—should be donated to the History of Advertising Trust, where the collection could be curated and made available for study.
The History of Advertising Trust was founded in 1976. A small group within the advertising industry decided its heritage needed to be preserved and that the study of UK advertising should be encouraged. HAT’s mission is to promote learning and creative excellence by preserving and celebrating the advertising heritage of the UK. This includes rescue, cataloguing, and preservation of creative works to enable access to all for study and research.
*Sidenote: The boom of independent local radio (ILR) came to an end when swathes of local stations were gradually consolidated and rebranded by large national media groups. The exit of original founders, paired with rebranding by an acquirer is a common way for corporate archives to be lost.