I’ve recently been amused by three aspects of television advertisements: music, lyrics and side effects.

The whole purpose of advertising is to draw attention to a product and drive sales. Television is a visual medium, but language and music play a big role in triggering human response, so they are vital in the quest to sell. Voiceovers, on-screen text and music style can help set the mood and deliver the message, even in a 30-second spot.

Prior association — the effect of harnessing the audience’s previous experience (nostalgia) and refocusing it — also can help sell the idea that viewers need a certain service or product.

Ad executives use skill and daring to craft finished multi-media commercials from sights, sounds and words. Some commercials are works of art. Some are not.


I realize that 1960s and 1970s rock-and-roll tunes are considered by younger generations to be classical music, mere echoes of an ancient past. But plenty of television viewers recall an era when songs by Aerosmith, The Sex Pistols and Jefferson Airplane were controversial, even scandalous.

So my mind stumbles when an ad uses once-questioned music to tout everyday items or services.

Like when Doritos used punk rock band Blondie’s “One Way or Another” to sell vending machine corn chips.

Or when a current Samsung ad uses the song “Que Será Será,” a tune I first heard in an Alfred Hitchcock movie about kidnapping and assassination.

Time heals many wounds, the old saying goes. Time also offers the opportunity for marketers to creatively re-use songs, formerly associated with controversy or conflict, as a tool to drive new sales.

Ad executives probably expect most viewers to remember tunes, but not necessarily their prior associations — particularly if those associations involve controversy or kidnapping.


On the other end of the creativity scale, some ad jingle lyrics make me cringe because of their utter simplicity.

Jingle writers frequently sell word compositions that don’t require a large vocabulary. Like this gem that appeared on national television:

Stinky, Hefty, Stinky, Hefty. Stinky? Stinky. ... Hefty Hefty Hefty. Stinky stinky stinky. Hefty Hefty Hefty.

Or the current ad campaign that features these uncomplicated lyrics:

Liberty, liberty, liberty. Liberty.

Another current campaign also relies on a single word:

Free. Free. Free. Free. Free. ... repeated I don’t know how many times.

And while it seems impossible to forget the linguistic beauty of these poetic lyrics from a recent TV campaign, no one can recall what the ad was for:

Free Credit Report Dot Com.

I think any of these lyricists could face an exciting future in the pop music industry.

Perhaps one of them will become the next Jim Morrison, start a cutting-edge band called “The Stores,” and perform haunting melodies like: People are Normal, Light my Warming Tray and Riders on the Escalator.

Side Effects

I’ve noticed that many prescription medications advertised on TV share similar unpleasant possible side effects — little stuff like muscle soreness, dizziness, vomiting and lymphoma.

I wonder if some viewers listen to such a list of possible side effects and respond with an instant, “Wow, that sounds great!”

The creative people behind those ads strive to overpower stunningly long lists of side effects with video of smiling actors performing everyday tasks with ease, unaffected by whatever supposedly ails them. There’s usually upbeat music tinkling along quietly in the background, and words that promise a reasonable chance of relief for some disease. But that required listing of side effects tosses in a bit of a downer.

In many ads, the last side effect listed is the biggie: possible death. It would seem hard to swallow a medication that may give you clearer skin, but could kill you.

As best I can determine, only two nations in the world allow direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising: the U.S. and New Zealand. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration require such ads to mention both benefits and risks of the product being advertised, including possible side effects.

I’m puzzled by another disclaimer in most pharmaceutical advertisements, the one that instructs viewers to tell their doctor about all the drugs they use. I may be old-fashioned, but my doctor is the person who prescribes my medication — so she already knows.

Contact Business Editor Dan Nielsen at 231-933-1467 or dnielsen@record-eagle.com.