Damn that ‘fresh, exciting’ earworm!
We’ve all been there: We hear a song on television or radio—all too often in a commercial—and maybe we like it a bit or it makes us smile… the first six or eight times. Then it gets stuck inside our heads, cycling over and over again like an MP3 player jammed on repeat, and slowly but surely, it begins to drive us insane.
“I can’t help wondering if the incidence of earworms and musical hallucinations is higher now, with background music in every public place,” says Dr. Oliver “Awakenings” Sacks, who studied the phenomenon in his book Musicophila. (He also talked about it on Sound Opinions.) “The brain is very sensitive to music; you don’t have to attend to it to record it internally and be affected by it.”
And, in one of the great ironic injustices of the universe, it seems as if the more you love and listen to music, the more susceptible you are to these musical parasites.
No one knows exactly what gives a earworm powers. James Kellaris, a professor of marketing at the University of Cincinnati who calls himself “Dr. Earworm,” simply says, “Certain pieces of music may have properties that excite an abnormal reaction in the brain.” And that damn Jewel-Osco “Fresh, Exciting” commercial, seemingly airing once every 10 minutes on every local station in Chicago, certainly qualifies.
You know the one: In a pathetic throwback to those creepy, crooning “California Raisins”—with a bit of Veggie Tales thrown in—a supermarket produce section full of tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and the like reworks the lyrics to the 1984 Kool & the Gang hit “Fresh.” The original “She’s fresh, exciting/She’s so exciting to me/She’s fresh, exciting/She’s so inviting to me” becomes “We’re fresh, exciting/Fresh from the store right to your plate/We’re fresh, exciting/We’re freshest so your dishes go from good to great.”
Meanwhile, the massive bass line of the ’84 recording—my colleague Greg Kot would call it “booty-shaking”—is substantially tamed down, lest the jingle sound too urban or salacious… though, I admit, the singing broccoli spear really does make my mouth water.
An email to the Minneapolis-based parent company of Jewel-Osco searching for the band or studio musicians responsible for the tamed-down recording got no response, but the industry trade Ad Age did write about the campaign when it started in late August. Sidne Berg, the company’s director of marketing and communications, called it “innovative” and “out-of-the-box.” She didn’t directly address the music, but in response to the question “Why produce?,” she gushed:
“Our produce department… is a key department for us. The campaign itself really leverages the visceral and exciting attributes of that department. We’re bringing fun to grocery advertising. The key assets are around music, animation. We’ve animated fruits and vegetables to deliver that message of quality and fresh.”
Yeah, well, I prefer Dominicks.