Advertisers Turning to Los Angeles for Jingles

With jingles like Chevrolet’s “Heartbeat of America” and McDonald’s “Good Time, Great Taste,” who’d expect to hear anything but praises sung for the company that created them?

Well, Joey Levine, who is president of the New York music house that created these jingles, recently started to notice something odd. His company, Crushing Enterprises, was suddenly having a tougher time picking up new business from West Coast advertisers. For years, New York has been considered Tune Town. But lately, he says, a growing number of advertisers are taking their business to Los Angeles music houses.

“It’s not that West Coast music is more hip,” said Levine, “it’s just that that area of the country is hot right now.” As a result, Levine recently began negotiating with a prospective Los Angeles partner to become among the first of the major New York music houses to open a full-service Los Angeles office.

He’ll find plenty of local competition when he gets here. After all, commercial music writers say they are drawn to Los Angeles because this area is also home to the motion picture and recording industries, as well as a large talent pool of musicians.


Just ask the folks who make Colt 45 malt liquor. Traditionally, the company’s Baltimore advertising agency, W. B. Doner & Co., has gone to New York companies for its jingles. But the tune to its newest jingle, “Colt 45 Works Every Time,” was written by a 5-year-old Los Angeles music house, HLC.

“Los Angeles is the hottest area for musical talent,” explained Hugh Nelson, group marketing director for Colt 45. And Colt’s new radio jingle, he said, is scheduled to break in the Los Angeles market next week. What’s more, the new Colt 45 jingle will also be used later this year in the Tri-Star film “Tap,” starring Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis Jr.

Just 10 years ago, advertising executives say, fewer than a handful of music houses had set up shop in the Los Angeles area. Today, there are an estimated 30. “Right now, the largest talent pool of (musical) performers is in Los Angeles,” said Ron Hicklin, president of HLC, “and that is attracting the advertisers.”

Indeed, during the past few years HLC has created a number of familiar jingles, including the Gatorade tune, “Gatorade is Thirst Aid,” and the song used on Wheaties commercials, “Go Tell Your Mama What the Big Boys Eat.”


In fact, the jingle for Wheaties breakfast cereal is what gave HLC its start five years ago. “We got the request from them at 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” said Hicklin. “We had the tune written and recorded by 6 o’clock that evening, and the tape was on the desk (at the ad agency) by 10 o’clock the next morning.”

Usually, however, a 30-second or 60-second jingle requires days--if not weeks--of work. “The intent is to create a hit, just like in the record industry,” said Hicklin. “But a jingle is much harder. In 30 seconds there’s no time for dallying around. You just have to get to the point and do it.”

That’s exactly what Mark Vieha did with “Get on Your Pontiac and Ride,” the jingle he wrote for the auto maker. “I was at a barbecue and just started humming the song,” recalled Vieha, co-partner in the Los Angeles music house LA/NY Music. His company briefly had a New York office when it was getting off the ground in 1980, but the high costs of operating in both cities forced Vieha and partner Jay Kennedy to choose between the two.

Recently, the two men wrote a jingle for Taco Bell, “Make a Run for the Border.” And most recently, they wrote a gospel-like jingle he just completed for Nike that will soon run in TV spots in the Los Angeles area.


The big advantage to being a jingle writer in the Los Angles market, said Vieha, is the opportunity to also dabble in the film and record business. “If you just work on jingles all the time,” he said, “you burn out.”

Well, after 19 years in the jingle business, Don Piestrup hasn’t burned out. His North Hollywood company, Piece of Cake, has created all of Honda’s jingles since 1982, and last week he completed a new commercial jingle for Chevron. “To tell you the truth,” he said in a telephone interview, “I just finished writing it a few minutes ago, and we’re already starting to record it.”

As one of the real veteran jingle writers in the area, Piestrup is very aware of the recent influx of competitors. “They’re not just writing good jingles,” he said, “they’re writing good songs.”

For their efforts, jingle writers can make $75,000 for a single hit. But that’s the very top of the scale. Usually, $10,000 to $20,000 is the most a writer sees out of a successful jingle. “But you only get one sale out of, say, 20 jingles you write,” said Levine, the New York writer. “So it’s not really $20,000 for one song, but more like $20,000 for 20 songs.”


As for those singers who record the jingles, well, that can be a fat--and quick--payday. “It’s a very, very lucrative business,” said Johnny Kemp, a singer and songwriter who last week was at the HLC studios recording a commercial jingle for Colt 45. “In fact,” he said on a break between recording sessions, “it can be tempting to forget your recording career and just do this.”

Offer for Freebie Draws Flood of Calls

“You’ll be quizzed at the end of this commercial.”

That is the opening line to an offbeat advertisement for a temporary job service that has raised the eyebrows of plenty of Los Angeles-area TV viewers. The commercial promises a free--but unspecified--gift to every viewer who remembers the company’s name at the end of the ad.


As it happens, plenty of people remembered it--a lot more than the company, Remedy Temp of San Juan Capistrano, expected. At the end of the commercial, an 800 phone number is flashed on the screen. And those who call in--and simply state the name of the company--are sent free California road maps.

But the ad agency that created the ad--Hawkins Advertising of Corona Del Mar--ordered only 500 maps before the ad aired. “We didn’t know what kind of response the ad would get,” said Larry Rosenberg, copy writer at the agency. In fact, the ad received more than 4,000 responses. The agency quickly ordered 5,000 more maps, said Rosenberg. “If you say something’s free,” said Rosenberg, “you can bet a lot of people are going to call.”

Lack of Interest Kills Political Ad Class

The vote is in. And a UCLA Extension class, “Producing Winning Political Commercials,” lost at the academic equivalent of the polling place. It was canceled last week for lack of interest.


Only eight people signed up for the course, said Ronnie Rubin, continuing education specialist at the school. The class promised to take an “inside” look at the 1988 campaign--from Madison Avenue’s perspective.

Why did so few students sign up?

“Maybe,” Rubin said, “it’s because the candidates aren’t very exciting this year.” Then again, she added, perhaps it was the $155 enrollment fee. Said Rubin: “We’re a good barometer of the economy.”