This week’s question comes from The A.V. Club’s own Alex McLevy:
What’s your most hated commercial jingle?
Look, this began for one reason: I am slowly being driven insane by FarmersOnly.com. In the past couple of months, I see the terrible ads for that stupid service seemingly every time I turn on the TV. “You don’t have to be lonely, at FarmersOnly.com” goes the ballad-esque theme, burrowing its way into my nightmares. There’s a lot to hate about the commercials themselves, from the apparent whites-only requirement to the little racist dog whistles and Sarah Palin-esque “real America” insinuations of the jokier ones. So I’ve been trying to fight back, in the only way I know how: By changing the words of the jingle to be a little meaner. Try it for yourself—here’s a couple to get you started. “You can keep being racist, at FarmersOnly.com.” “You don’t see any Jews here, at ChristianBigots.com.” I’d add the obligatory #NotAllFarmers—I come from proud country stock myself—but god, that jingle is the fucking worst, and I hope its stereotyped version of rural blackface changes soon.
For years, national plumbing chain Benjamin Franklin Plumbing—having already bought into the bizarre premise that nothing says “reliable help with a busted pipe” like a reference to America’s favorite gouty founding father—decided to do like so many businesses have over the years, and turn to Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309" to drum up a little business. (You know, because “Benny” rhymes with “Jenny.”) There were a number of commercials that featured the company’s new toll-free number, but this one was the only one I could dig up online. The important thing is that it still has my all-time least-favorite jingle line, permanently seared into my brain: the jeeringly catchy, “866, that’s his prefix,” which takes a song that was already an endless litany of numbers and jams an area code in there for good measure. (Fun fact: Benjamin Franklin Plumbing is apparently no longer allowed to use the jingle in New England, after getting into a fight with a different plumbing and heating company also using the number. When it went to court, Tommy Tutone’s Tommy Heath dismissed the entire argument as “ridiculous.”)
I go up and down with the new version of Will & Grace, but there was one recent B-plot that totally landed with me: When Jack and Karen get stuck in the Trucks For Tykes jingle and wind up in the emergency room because they can’t get the annoying ditty out of their heads. I feel the same way about Trucks For Tykes’ obvious antecedent: 1-877 Kars For Kids. Is it the child-driven vocals? The insipid repetitiveness? The guitar that sounds like it just took an Ambien? Yes, yes, and yes. I’d burn my car up like Angela Bassett in Waiting To Exhale before I would ever donate it to the evil forces behind this infernal jingle. Sorry, kids. (You’re not alone, Gwen: Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan hates it, too!—Ed.)
There’s something extra insidious about insurance companies promoting themselves as folksy friends who truly care about their customers, when in reality they are exploitative corporations that care about you only inasmuch as they care about securing the largest payout possible for their already-rich shareholders. It’s even worse when your company has been named one of the worst offenders in a whole industry that makes a practice of upping company profits by simply not paying out when its customers get screwed. So yeah, a double fuck-you to State Farm’s “Like a good neighbor State Farm is there” jingle. State Farm is no one’s friend. You can pay State Farm bills for years to protect yourself when disaster strikes, and the company will go to great lengths to avoid paying out claims—even in devastating natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, when it gave a big middle finger to thousands of Mississippians who lost their homes. State Farm has been ranked as the fourth-worst insurance company in the U.S. in terms of dodging claims. It has billions in assets, the CEO is worth millions, but good luck filing a claim when a tornado destroys your home. (And yes, that is Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan in the commercial above.)
I have no idea how much Kraft paid British dance band EMF to turn “Unbelievable” into a jingle about prefabricated cheese wads. I certainly hope it bought them enough ecstasy to spend the past decade in a haze, blissfully unaware of the damage “Crumbelievable” has done to its most lasting legacy, or of the suffering of aging Gen-Xers who watched as one of its druggy rave anthems was coopted by corporate squares to become—according to Stephen Colbert—a snackable symbol of our cultural decline. I’m not sure it merits that sort of sociological hand-wringing, though. All I know is “Crumbelievable” is really fucking irritating, not least in the utter creative listlessness of its premise (which even drags in a dated Michael Buffer parody) and the smart-stupid success it blundered toward. No one, not even the hopefully-permanently-high members of EMF, will be able to hear the original song again without thinking about clumsy ad-man portmanteaus and tumbling cheese nuggets. Hope it was worth it, guys.
I used to eat a lot of Subway. I know this isn’t okay. I know they make the bread with yoga mats. I know that the signature “smell” of a Subway is a cloying, unctuous chemical sensation. But whatever, it’s cheap and they give you a large sandwich; this is a fine way to punctuate your day at a job you hate. This appeal was crystallized by the chain’s long-running and wildly successful $5 foot-long deal. The commercials for this promotion featured the same iterative jingle repeated over and over, and because it lead to a marked uptick in sales, they kept the promotion running and kept cranking out the commercials for what felt like years, a seasonal thing that turned into a cornerstone of its business model. I had this co-worker who would pop up when I least expected him to and start singing it—it was his way of inviting me to go get a sandwich with him, but, come on, man, other people can hear you. I don’t want people to know what I do in my spare time. A Subway sandwich is a quiet and shameful thing; its jingle should not be so fucking cheery about it.
I’m not around commercials much these days, but I developed a habit long ago of immediately muting them when they start. Although I can’t prove it, I suspect I started doing this during the heyday of Chili’s incredibly annoying baby-back ribs song, which was maddeningly ubiquitous in the ’90s. Apparently thousands of people found/find it charming, because the restaurant has updated it over the years, and even today, YouTube is crammed with numerous official variations and fan videos. And just in case I didn’t find Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me disappointing enough, Fat Bastard even sings it in the movie—a true union of garbage.
Like all true consumer-culture viruses, the six-note jingle for the Chicagoland-based Empire Today—the No. 2 specialty flooring retailer in the country, according to Floor Covering Weekly, which is a real trade publication—appears innocuous. An a cappella sextet sings, “Eight-hundred-five-eight-eight-two-three-hundred-Empiiire.” “Today,” adds a man’s voice, followed by a tooting synth note and snare. The music is usually accompanied by a cartoon of the multilocated Empire Man (originally portrayed by the late copywriter Lynn Hauldren, who also wrote the jingle), who looks with satisfaction as his multiple selves invade an unfurnished home—perhaps your home or mine—to fill it with parquet floors, bland medium-pile beige carpeting, and blander plastic vertical blinds. Even without the authoritarian implications of this branding (the company is called Empire Today, after all), the jingle is unshakable, a depressing reminder of life under advertising—a phone number you’ll never forget for a service you will never use.
As far as jingles for local businesses go, you could do a lot worse than the one cooked up for Long Island’s Behr’s Furniture, a little blast of poorly produced ’50s-style rock, complete with honky-tonk piano and cheesy sax. But at some point I noticed an inexplicable detail that got stuck in my head and has been gnawing at me ever since: When the singer says “Behr’s,” he throws this nigh imperceptible “m” sound in front of it, making it sound like he’s saying “Run to m-Behr’s.” I couldn’t unhear it, and nobody I mentioned it to knew what the hell I was ranting about. Every time that ad showed up, I felt like I was falling deeper into this horrible truth only I realized. Eventually, my local-ad conspiracy theory was vindicated when I found out my partner’s mom had also been raving about it for years. In a lovely moment of serendipity born from pure madness, we actually got to bond over this stupid commercial that drove us nuts for little to no reason.
I see the aspersions Ignatiy casts on the oppressive Empire Today jingle—its iron-fisted implications only amplified when it’s blaring in the background of a Donald Trump photo op—and raise him this touch-tone terror: “773 / 202 / [Four syncopated beeps.] / LU-NA!” It’s not just that this cloying recitation of a telephone number punctuates a continuing series of poorly acted, sub-comedic pitches for carpeting and laminate. (A particularly egregious offender: This clumsy bit of gameday T&A, which I think is supposed to be a riff on the bedroom eyes and clingy blue wardrobe of a Viagra spot?) It’s also a dependable musical reminder of my own, disappointing experience with Luna, whose subcontractors did sloppy, expensive work while installing a hardwood floor that’s continued to reveal agonizing imperfections long after its two-year limited warranty expired. Every time the jingle strikes up, it’s like hearing those fuckers accidentally crack (and then shoddily epoxy together) a pair of kitchen tiles all over again.
I wasn’t sure I had a good answer to this question until I searched for “’90s commercial jingles Dallas.” And then it all came flooding back: terrible car dealerships, Blue Bell’s “best ice cream in the country” (which is a great jingle and also true), Mr. Gatti’s Pizza, and... goddamn Rodney D. Young, a car insurance company geared to hard-to-insure drivers. The predictably low-budget commercials featured the stilted dialogue and acting that distinguishes many of the ads on this list (one choice bit of dialogue: “And the alternative is... well, sad”). Unfortunately, it seems like all the companies poured their advertising dollars into the earwormiest jingles they could afford: I remember nothing about the commercials themselves, but “Think Young! Rodney D. Young!” still makes me mentally scramble for the mute button.