History of advertising: No 133: The Wheaties Quartet

Advertising jingles have their origins in the rhyming cries of 15th- and 16th-cen­tury street vendors, some of which live on in nursery rhymes such as Hot Cross Buns and Molly Malone's cry of "cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh".

History of advertising: No 133: The Wheaties Quartet

But jingles came into their own when radio was launched in the US during the 20s. This was thanks largely to General Mills, which became the first advertiser to create a stand­alone commercial jingle.

First aired on Christmas Eve 1926 in Minneapolis, it was written to promote the company’s Wheaties breakfast cereal and was sung by a barbershop-style group called the Wheaties Quartet.

It began: "Have you tried Wheaties? They’re whole wheat with all of the bran. Won’t you try Wheaties? For wheat is the best food of man."

If the lyrics sound clunky by today’s standards, their effect was astonishing.

General Mills had been planning to kill off the brand until its advertising manager, Samuel Chester Gale, pointed out that more than half of all Wheaties packs being sold were in the Minneapolis area – the only place the jingle was being aired.

Instead of axing the product, General Mills decided to run the ad across the US, leading to a dramatic rise in sales and the establishment of Wheaties as a national brand.

The success of the "have you tried Wheaties?" campaign soon had other ad­vertisers taking notice. They liked the idea of jingles as it allowed them to circumvent regulations that prevented direct ads from being aired in primetime.

Because jingles were often placed at the beginning or end of radio programmes, they were regarded more as entertainment than sales pitches, meaning advertisers could play them at any time of day.


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