Chances are good that you know the tune bracketing the 800-number featured in the commercials of Empire Today. Thirty years ago the Chicago-based home improvement and home furnishings giant set its 1-800 number to six notes sung by a mixed male-and-female a cappella group. Empire Today senior vice president Joe Glantz says the company developed the jingle to go along with its “Empire Man” cartoon character, introduced in 1977 and now used in all the company's ads. Advertising executive Lynn Hauldren penned the tune and sings three of the male vocal tracks.
One million customers and 50 market locations later, the jingle has made Empire Today one of the few home improvement companies with national, name-brand recognition, with rock band Pearl Jam once covering it in concert. Glantz says people download the jingle from Empire's Web site to use as a ring tone on their cell phones. “The beauty of the Empire jingle,” says Rikki-Lee Travolta, the company's public relations manager, “is that it doesn't pretend to be anything other than it is. It's a campy, catchy tune.”
AN AUDIO LOGO Jingles, or singing commercials, aren't a new concept. They go back to 1923, and were pioneered by cereal giant General Mills. About to cancel a new product called Wheaties, for lack of sales, the company's executives noticed that the one market where Wheaties sold — the Twin Cities — was the one where General Mills had run a jingle ad called “Have You Tried Wheaties?” on the radio. The company subsequently purchased nationwide commercial air time and Wheaties, of course, stuck around.
Rich Germaine, vice president of GMI Media, an advertising and radio jingle production company in Kent, Wash., says jingles are “the same thing as a visual logo, only to the ear.” But jingles can be far more memorable, he says, because “you hear the emotion, the slogan, the name of the business. It takes only 5 notes, 7 notes, 10 notes, and you're hooked.”
He says there are two jingle types: Generic jingles are existing tunes licensed for local markets, while custom jingles are specifically created for a company and its brand. Costs, he says, range from $1,500 to about $7,000, though they could go considerably higher if the client adds quality touches, such as renting a symphony orchestra.
I NEED A ROOF Empire's musical magic has inspired several other home improvement companies to try their own jingles. Brian Elias, owner of Hansons Window & Siding, in the Detroit area, concedes it was Empire's tune that convinced him to go the jingle route. Currently, the Hansons Web site features a group of kids and owner Elias singing the company jingle, which Elias says he and a musician friend turned out in a two-hour phone conversation.
Jeffrey Kaliner, co-owner of Power Windows & Siding, in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, says “I couldn't get Empire's [jingle] out of my mind.” So in 2005 he commissioned a 4-second tune to tie in with the company phone number. Power Windows & Siding features it in radio and TV ads, as well as on its Web site. Kaliner says research indicates that although people don't always remember the company phone number, they do recall the tune. “It still may be too early,” he says, “but it seems the jingle is recognized while the phone number is not.” He believes that “developing a jingle from scratch that would take hold immediately is impossible,” and that in time the tune will play a big role in building the Power brand.
Clearwater Home Improvement, in Mystic, Conn., took a different tack. Its ad says, “Hey, Clearwater! I need a roof!” But it's the musical setting that makes it memorable enough that, according to owner Randy Brown, when the company sets up its booth at home shows, kids rush up yelling, “Hey, Clearwater! I need a roof.”
A FULL SING Though home improvement companies are starting to discover, or rediscover, jingles, most would have a long way to go to catch up with State Roofing, in Seattle (www.stateroofing.com). With a tune written by movie composer and two-time Emmy winner Hummie Mann, and words by veteran lyricist Sue Ennis, the 60-second song — a “full sing” in industry jargon — begins like this:
If your roof is looking old, tired, and mossy
And leaks are leaving puddles on the floor…
And closes with the refrain:
Roof! Roof! Roof! We love to roof!
The lyrics emphasize the quality that the company delivers and the fact that State Roofing is a 40-year-old company “and will be here 20 years from now,” says marketing director Guy Golliver. “It invokes the features you want to hire: solidness, confidence, reliability.” The company's toll-free number is embedded in the song.
Golliver says the jingle has boosted awareness of State Roofing's name from the single digits to 50% in its market. In 2004, the year the commercial was launched, it won the company a “Soundie” award, given by the Puget Sound Radio Broadcasters Association. Golliver says “it's common for people to ask our reps to sing it when they go into homes.”