From getting it, to eating it, to having it, welcome to Ass Week, MEL’s weeklong exploration of the body part du jour.
Unlike our current golden age of ass-eating, the famed commercial jingle is past its cultural prime. What began as a sort of Trojan horse for advertisers during the golden era of radio in the 1930s reached its sing-song-y peak in the 1950s. “Direct advertising during prime-time hours was prohibited, so advertisers started using a clever loophole — the jingle,” reports How Stuff Works. “Jingles could mention a company or product’s name without explicitly shilling that product.” By 1950, jingles had become so successful that the songwriters who composed them were granted the copyright, rather than the manufacturing company.
Although today the jingle has largely been phased out in favor of the excruciating skit commercial, they still live on, and they still enthusiastically endorse even the most personal of products. Case in point: Pepto Bismol’s Smooth Tummy Talkers ad, featuring a jingle that heroically manages to be both catchy and provide valuable information about treating your galloping case of the runs.
But just who are these modern-day purveyors of ass-medicine jingles?
In this case, the ad was composed by musicians at Butter, an international music and sound company. Ian Jeffreys, the company’s managing director and executive producer, who helped write and produce the above 15-second song, tells me that although most ads these days predominantly use underscore (music playing quietly under dialogue or a visual scene), his agency still gets quite a few calls from companies who want jingles.
“Jingles are a big part of what we do at Butter,” he says. “Jingles and comedy. So we often see jingles that are a little self-aware.” He adds, “The jingle trend started back up about six or seven years ago when we worked on an ad for Ragu called ‘Long Day of Childhood.’ After that, we saw a big resurgence in funny jingles that were self-referential about advertising.”
But of course, writing a jingle about pasta sauce is ever so slightly different than writing a jingle for, well, ass medicine. “In this case, we were tasked with coming up with a recording that was riffing on tropes from boy bands,” says Jeffreys, who also notes that if you listen carefully to the jingle, you’ll realize that the “diarrhea” lyric doesn’t actually rhyme. “We produced a similar spot for Pepto the year before that featured a country band,” he adds. “The campaign was extremely successful, and they wanted to continue exploring other musical genres. Boy bands seemed like they had a high potential for comedy.”
Musically, at least, it’s hard to argue with the success of the latest Pepto jingle: It’s pretty much everything you’d want if you were trying to compose a jingle so catchy that it takes your mind off the fact that, technically speaking, you’re humming along to a list of uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms. It’s a nostalgic yet informative melody that nests in your brain like a pop song, only instead of humming words like “call me” and “maybe,” you’re humming “diarrheaaaa.”
Scientifically speaking, psychologists and neurologists who study the effects of music on the brain have long found that music with a strong emotional connection to the listener is difficult to forget, as per a different article on How Stuff Works. But this is Pepto we’re talking about — how exactly do you go about forging an emotional connection to a viscous pink substance designed to calm your stomach?
As with all jingles, the simple fact that the melody is short, and therefore easy to remember, goes a long way. “Researchers have noted that the shorter and simpler the melody, the more likely it is to get stuck in your head — this is why some of the most common earworms [pleasantly melodic, easy-to-remember ‘hooks’ that have the attributes of a typical jingle] are jingles and the choruses of pop songs,” reports How Stuff Works.
Additionally, according to a researcher at Penn State University, it’s a matter of repetition. “A certain familiarity — similarity to music one already knows — can play a role,” Keith Duffy, a professor of rhetoric and composition, explained to Penn State News. “Unfamiliar music doesn’t connect well. It’s harder to own, especially on first listen.”
Which explains why, when trying to insert this ass medicine into your earhole, Jeffreys and his team decided to go with the version of the jingle that they did. “We produced several versions, all in the spirit of boy band pop from the late 1990s, early 2000s,” he says. “This one won the competition because it had a couple of sounds in it — like the string hits and the bass slide — that made it extra nostalgic.”
As for the lyrics, Jeffreys admits that neither he nor Butter can take credit for them. “That litany of discomforts is something the brand has been using for a while,” he says. “I actually recall working on another Pepto ad that put the litany to song back in 2006.” What he can take credit for is the general sound of the song. “To my knowledge, this is the first time they went with a boy band sound.”
So if you’re an aspiring jingle writer trying to think of a good rhyme for “Preparation H,” ask yourself the eternal question: What would the Backstreet Boys do when faced with a hemorrhoid?