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Trinda Freese – The Power of Sound: How Earworms Get Stuck in Our Heads

I’ve recently taken to turning on the morning news as I get ready for work, telling myself I’m only leaving the TV on so my cat doesn’t get lonely during the day. Usually I don’t pay much attention to the background noise of the weatherman’s droning or the newscaster’s poor attempts at witty banter, forgetting all but the sound of their voices. One day I started humming an unfamiliar tune and tapped my fingers to an alien beat. It was stuck in my head all day, but I couldn’t place where I’d heard it before until I got home. The earworm that had been repeating itself in my head was none other than a jingle. Armed with 10 years of musical instruction and a single semester of Introduction to Psychology, I was able to figure out just what made this advertising stick in my brain.

Jingles and taglines are key to advertising. The measure of successful audio is the creation of an earworm that gets stuck in your head, coming back to you when you are approached with a buying decision. As different as taglines and jingles can be in use of techniques like melody and rhythm, they can be heard cross-platform and can use the other techniques of repetition and rhyme to make it memorable.


Taglines and jingles in advertising must have a certain amount of approachability, an idea that appeals to all audiences. This humanizing of a brand allows audiences to easily connect with them, like with Sage, the college saving desert tortoise. In one of our most recent campaigns, we gave Sage a laugh all his own. This laugh has become a familiar sound in homes across the state, and is a friendly reminder about our client’s campaign.

Sage Tagline:


Rhymes can have more than one function. They serve as a great mnemonic device, because our brains can remember more content if the words sound alike. Rhymes can also create brand association, like this Stanley Steemer tagline and jingle, where cleaner is rhymed with Steemer, drawing the listener’s ear, and forming the conclusion that Stanley Steemer equals cleaner.

Stanley Steemer Jingle


The brain encodes different memories in different ways. A jingle is efficient at sticking in our head because we’re not just storing the words from the jingle in our minds, we’re also storing the underlying sounds. This may be the reason we can remember the tune of the jingle the first time we hear it, but not necessarily the words until we’ve been exposed a few times.



Rhythm and melody almost belong in the same category because they generally coexist and perform the same functions, but in some cases a rhythm can exist without a melody. The jingle I hear every morning has a coexisting melody and rhythm, and a beat-box rhythm that is independent of the melody. This Kit-Kat jingle is an example of rhythm and melody coexisting, but the rhythm takes center stage, just reminding us of the familiar melody.



Repetition is one of those techniques we consciously employ when trying to learn something, like a phone number or a name. Repetition helps turn our short-term memories into long-term ones. Repetition can be used in two ways. One, phrases are repeated within a jingle. Two, the jingle or tagline is heard several times.



Unlike their predecessors, audio isn’t just utilized in the two traditional forms of television and radio. With new technologies the jingle and tagline can be successfully adapted for cross-platform use. The same audio I heard while getting ready this morning can also be heard via an audio streaming service on my way to work, on my lunch hour streaming video, or a pop-up ad on my phone screen while playing a game.

Taglines and jingles are just two of the numerous ways sound is used in successful advertising. They have the responsibility of inherently belonging to a brand and the unique capability to get stuck in our heads.

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