Five Dollar Footlong vs. Saved by Zero

20 11 2008

Since the days of Burma-Shave and the Victrola, advertisers have used jingles to worm their way into their customers’ conciousness. Advertising has gotten a lot more sophisticated since then, but these insipid anthems still have the power to hijack our brains in a way few other strategies can.

As consumers, we like to think that we’re not so easily manipulated, and maybe you’re not. But try to read the following lines to yourself without also humming the tune:

  • My bologna has a first name, its O-S-C-A-R
  • What would you do for a Klondyke bar?
  • Give me a break, give me a break, break me off a piece of that Kit-Kat Bar


Recently, the Gods of Marketing added two more jingles to our playlist from hell: Subway’s “Five Dollar Footlong” and Toyota’s “Saved by Zero.”

Launched earlier this year, “Five Dollar Footlong” has met with largely good, if exhasperated, reviews. It also seems to have had a dramatic impact on sales of, you guessed it, $5 footlongs.

“Saved by Zero,” on the other hand, has recieved a downright chilly reception. In place of the bemused irritation of the Subway campaign, reactions to “Zero” have been much more hostile. Why?

It’s not that “Zero” is inherently more annoying than “Footlong”–at least it doesn’t come with corresponding dance moves. Instead, the reason “Zero” makes viewers’ teeth itch is that we don’t really know what this musical beast that’s taken residence in our heads even wants from us.

Saved? By zero? From what? What does that even mean? And what the hell does it have to do with a Toyota? 

The beauty of the jingle is it’s simplicity. If you get me humming “Five. Five dollar. Five dollar footlooooong,” my takeaway is that I can get a footlong for five dollars. If I’m humming it around lunch time, I just might march myself right into a Subway. Conversely, walking around humming “Saaaved by Zeeroooo,” isn’t going to get me to do anything besides grind my teeth. It doesn’t make me think about why I might want a Toyota, and in any case, I tend to purchase automobiles with a bit more gravity than I do my lunch.

Unfortunately, it looks like “Zero” is going to be here for a while, so you might as well carve out a little cranial real estate, maybe next to the ever-popular “I got my baby back baby back baby back baby back… Chiliiiiiii’s baby back riiibs…”

Oops. I hope I didn’t get that one stuck in your head.




9 responses

20 11 2008
Bruce McIntire

I found your site on technorati and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

20 11 2008

Yes, it does make my teeth itch… if that’s even possible.

I am just pissed that a classic 80s song like this was used to hawk low interest rates on cars. NOTHING 80s is sacred anymore. I drive a LandCruiser and almost feel like boycotting my own vehicle over this ad. Not the gas mileage… the jingle!

20 11 2008

You’re right about “Saved by Zero.” I have no idea what the hell that’s supposed to mean. In fact, when I saw your tweet, I immediately knew the jingle but didn’t even remember that it was for Toyota.

20 11 2008
joe alonzo

1. another reason “saved by zero” is particularly irritating is that it particularly oversaturates the commercial breaks of popular sporting events. so it seems like i hear it every commercial break, two hours per night and all weekend. this puts it in the same category as the “this is oooouuuuuurrrrr countryyyyy” chevy ad featuring john mellencamp, which does a similarly poor job of improving brand recall.

2. am i the only one who thinks these are actually getting worse over time? i remember similar ads from when we were younger being much, much less irritating. i’m remembering van halen’s “right now” being used for crystal pepsi, or gatorade’s “be like mike” with michael jordan, or ray charles doing “you got the right one, baby” for diet pepsi. not exactly a jingle, and they got old after a while, but i liked the budweiser frogs. hmm – odd that those are all beverages. but if we’re just sticking with automobiles, i’ll certainly take a return to chevy and bob seger’s “like a rock” over this bs.

3. by far – and i include all of those mentioned above – by far the most annoying ad jingles i am aware of are from ads aired on local stations here in new york for long distance phone service. they are literally physically painful for me to sit through.

20 11 2008
MV Esq.

From the Wikipedia article on “Saved by Zero”:

“Music video

Cy Curnin plays a painter who draws the artwork from Reach the Beach. He is stranded at a flat, and he reminisces about his childhood.

There is a scene that features Curnin painting his naked torso with white and red acrylic paint tubes.”

Man, that is SO much better. Throw a half-naked guy with paint on his chest in the front seat, and I’ll totally buy one of their dumb cars.

21 11 2008
Rob Gokee

Thanks for the link on Twitter, I like your blog. The Subway jingle made my ears bleed. There are many times a jingle I really, really hate pops into my head at inopportune times. More than the jingle itself, I’m peeved that the marketing ploy they implemented actually worked, because I’m remembering their product.

Also, I’m kind of jealous that it was so effective.

Have a great trip!

25 11 2008
the problemwithcaring

just posted on this…..well not really…

27 11 2008

Oh My God.
That frigging Saved By Zero commercial really butters my muffins. Every time I am trying to watch a Penguins game I see that commercial every single break. I can’t stand it. My husband and I were just talking about how much it sucks.

Also, thank you for putting that shit jingle in my head again.

29 11 2008
Minneapolis Marketer Desaraev

haha, damn those addictive jingles. Nice post.

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