The American Capitalist Initiative,
Advertising In Music
In March of this year, we featured an essay
Pan Alley and provided a brief history of the American popular music
publishing industry. In that article, we mentioned that promotion and
advertising were early innovations and were instrumental in the success
of a number of the powerhouse publishing firms in the early 20th century.
Beyond marketing of popular songs, the
American capitalist initiative created new ways to exploit the new medium
of music. Popular sheet music was perhaps one of the very first mass
media, after the newspaper of course. It certainly was the first real
entertainment medium that entered the consumer's home. There was no
radio, no TV and shows could only be seen in a theater. Motion pictures
were in their infancy so sheet music represented the first real opportunity
for advertisers to get into our home on a broad basis. Better yet, the
nature of sheet music and the parlor music experience resulted in sheet
music being seen time after time and often on display for visitors to
see time and time again. How clever those people were!
fact, the idea of using music as a way of advertising goes all the way
back to colonial times when street vendors hawked their good to the
tune of a melodic chant. Of course we also know that music has been
used often as a way of fixing a product in our mind. A memorable tune
that "sticks in your mind" (don't you hate it when that happens?)
is the marketer's dream. As we have seen in our feature this month,
music that was written for a company or industry often benefits the
entire industry. One of the first industry wide musical plugs (no pun
intended) was for the tobacco industry through songs such as the 1836
song Think & Smoke Tobacco, by John Ashton and Pipe
de Tabac by John Hewitt. Advances
in transportation were hailed through such works as the 1828 Rail
Road March and the 1870 work The Iron Horse. Numerous other
songs of the period praised the telephone, typewriters, sports and even
the postal service through the Post Card Galop in 1864.
Lyrics also played an important part in the use of music
as advertising. Just as a catchy tune could assail your senses, a good
"jingle" or cute lyrics could become a part of society for
quite some time. The power of this form of advertising is formidable,
just stop for a moment and think of how many of these jingles you can
remember. It seems the musical ads are the ones that most stay with
us. A great example from 1883 is the Vegetable Compound jingle from
Mrs. Brown had female weakness,
She could have no children dear,
Till she took two bottles of Compound,
Now she has one every year.
Jingles like that one and others were often circulated
on trade cards that further spread the message.
With the advent of Tin Pan Alley and the popularity of
songs such as the multimillion seller After The Ball in 1892,
the stakes went up at a colossal rate. Imagine, in the days before mass
media having the opportunity to get your message to three, four or five
million people! What a temptation and what an opportunity. From the
start, publishers used the back page of sheet music to promote other
songs and composers. It seems since the beginning of printed music,
the back page has always been a billboard. But, with the advent of mass
sales of music, advertisers began to turn to more obvious messages,
such as we saw in this month's Bromo Selzer feature. It wasn't long
before the advertising message went beyond the advertising copy on the
cover or back to more direct means such as the music itself.
Rather than being general industry plugs, we moved into
music that became the advertising message itself. As we see in our featured
songs this month, many companies bought the rights to songs and
reissued them with more prominent advertising for themselves (see the
Mendelssohn reissue of Hiawatha as an example). The Sterling
Piano Company of Derby, Conn. commissioned an entire series of works
for piano that carried their name. Music such as the Sterling Hesitation
Waltz and the Sterling March and Two Step (below)
allowed the company to promote it's wares and make sure that their name
was prominently displayed.
Here we see the Sterling March (click to hear
it, only available in SCORCH format) in all its glory. Written by Charles
D. MacDonald & Charles E. Hunter, this song no doubt found its way to
many a home and piano salon. Whether it sold many pianos we will not
know but it undoubtedly kept their name top of mind and through the
free copies distributed, resulted in a great deal of goodwill. Any advertising
person can tell you that top of mind and goodwill are two of the most
valued results of advertising.
Other companies joined in with more commercial
songs that helped promote their product or company name. Perhaps one
of the first was American Petroleum published in 1864 by William
Hall. In 1895, Koala Gum published My Koala Girl and soon thereafter,
Wrigley's published Oh You Spearmint Kiddo With The Wrigley Eyes.
Lyrics got pretty weird in order to accommodate the corporate themes
with lyricists struggling to find just the right way to get in all the
plugs and product features. For example, the Wrigley song has the line
"Every kiss is loaded with bliss peptonized". Well, sometimes
they succeeded and sometimes they didn't.
Sometimes songwriters indirectly advertised
for products by using a company name or product in their song. Often
this was done only because the company name allowed for some novelty
or humor to be interjected as in Harry Von Tilzer's Under The Anheuser
Bush in 1903. Then of course there were songs entirely devoted to
massive product mentions such as the featured song I Saw It In The
B.R.T. and the 1925 song by Nicholas Slonimsky that took entire
passages of ad copy from the Saturday Evening Post and set them
course, the songs did not always plug companies or products. In some
rare cases, songs were written to advertise an event or place such as
the song Nineteen Fifteen, Frisco. This song, published in 1913 was
a two year in advance plug to attend the World Exposition in San Francisco
in 1915. See the lyrics and listen to the music in SCORCH format by
clicking on the cover. It is a romantic song that speaks from a woman's
point of view about getting married at the exposition. Not only does
this song promote the place but also notice that on the cover, we have
two businesses jumping aboard; The Broadmoor Theater and Golden Star
Furniture Polish. This one is a triple play for the advertisers!
By the late 1920's - Early 30's radio began to become
a feature in most homes so the use of sheet music as a medium began
to decline. However, music associated with products still was an important
advertising strategy, but in a different form. Rather than full length
songs we find ourselves facing the radio commercial with the frequent
use of rhymed lyrics set to music (the jingles we mentioned earlier).
And, as is often said, the rest is history.
We have seen this month that music and advertising have
been linked for much longer than any of us would have imagined. From
the earliest days of street chants to the constant pounding of our senses
on TV and radio, music has played a key role in selling products, companies
and places. In most cases, the association has been a good one with
our society being all the richer for it. Who can deny the enjoyability
of the songs we have presented here this month? Even the jingles bring
us some entertainment, how can we ever forget them and the nostalgic
images and smiles they can bring to us?
Pepsi Cola hits the spot,
Twelve full ounces, that's a lot,
Twice as much for a nickel, too
Pepsi Cola is the drink for you.
And, if that isn't enough..
You'll wonder where the yellow went,
When you brush your teeth with Pepsodent.
Rick Reublin August, 2000
Photos displayed in this essay are from
the Library of Congress collections or from the parlorsongs collection.
A major source for much of the text discussion is from The new Grove
Dictionary of American Music. See our references
page for details of our complete bibliography used for research
for this and other essays in this series..