Memorable Messages: Why I Can Still Sing the Rheingold Beer Commercial

I was listening to classical radio on my way home from Boston recently, when up popped the very Viennese Estudiantina Valse by Émile Waldteufel—a pleasant enough, lilting piece, not my first choice in classical, but remarkable because, if, like me, you grew up in the New York Metro area in the fifties and sixties (yes, I’m dating myself), you, like me, automatically recognized it as the tune for Rheingold Beer commercials.

Not only did I recognize the music, I remembered most of the jingle (My beer is Rheingold, the dry beer, think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer . . .). Of course, I had to check this out on the Internet and found this campy 1950s commercial for Rheingold—it’s the second half of the commercial that uses the Waldteufel piece, though in this version the jingle is different from the original, and the music is converted to 4/4 time to accompany marching beer bottles and cans!

Now, I’m not a beer drinker, and I haven’t thought of this commercial for decades. So I was amazed that I could instantly call up the words. But it’s really not surprising, given how memory works. The jingle writers of my childhood knew a lot about how to make a brand sticky, using rhyme, music and visuals.

Keys to Memory: Imagination and Association
According to memory expert Tony Buzan, you remember most those concepts that stimulate your imagination and are associated with a range of sensory stimuli.

In his book Use Your Perfect Memory, Buzan lists a dozen principles for improving memory, but the concepts can just as easily be applied to making a message memorable:

1) Synaesthesia/Sensuality—When we tie ideas to sights, sounds, smells, tastes or physicaI sensations, they are more memorable. I recalled the Rheingold commercial in part because of the music, and in part because of the rhyming sounds.

2) Movement—We all want to know what’s going to happen next. Watching something change, watching a story unfold—that’s what draws us to YouTube and makes video such an effective tool for messaging.

3) Association—We’re most likely to remember a message that’s relevant to our own needs and concerns. (The fact that the Rheingold commercial sticks in my brain, despite the fact that I’m not a beer fan and certainly wasn’t as a kid, says a lot about the power of music and rhyme as mnemonic devices.)

4) Sexuality—No surprises, here.

5) Humor—Of course, we remember messages that are funny. Witness the annual competition among Super Bowl advertisers.

6) Imagination—Any message that stimulates us to dream or think in new, original, surprising ways will be memorable.

7) Number—Adding numbers to the order and sequence of ideas helps us to recall specifics.

8) Symbolism—Abstract concepts linked to concrete, understandable symbols are more memorable. This is the key behind a strong logo design, such as the Target bullseye, which elegantly conveys the notion that you will find exactly what you’re shopping for at a Target store.

9) Color—Linking color to a concept or message is another powerful way of making a memorable association. It’s the reason for carefully choosing brand colors that are used consistently through all of your marketing materials.

10) Order and/or Sequence—It’s easier to remember messages that order information in a logical progression or meaningful groupings. For example, when writing marketing copy, the most important idea is usually placed either first or last in a paragraph—if you want to orient the reader to what follows, put it first; if you want her to remember the idea, put it last.

11) Positive Images—Though we all have our share of bad memories, we’re more likely to recall positive images and the messages we associate with them. This doesn’t mean you have to load up your marketing materials with rainbows and unicorns, but, for me, it’s an argument for strong, aesthetically pleasing design.

12) Exaggeration—Hyperbole works. Unless it’s overdone. As in there are so many weird images used in advertising today (like the bizarre new Honda ad campaign that features superheroes and a dead guy driving different Civics to make us think that this is a car for individuals) that you stop paying attention

Which brings me back to the Rheingold commercial. It’s dated and funny and silly, but still memorable, mainly because it’s pretty simple. You can hum the tune, sing the jingle and recall the brand, even 50 years later. With all the ephemeral media clutter in our lives today, how many marketing messages will stick in our brains for the next 50?


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