That jingle-jangle sound

This round of Knesset campaign ads has provided more memorable images than catchy tunes.

Netanyahu you tube 88 248 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Netanyahu you tube 88 248
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Gil Kopatch smoking a joint while sitting on David Ben-Gurion's grave, a black and white shot of a visibly agitated Binyamin Netanyahu holding his head, Tzipi Livni looking goofy and non-prime ministerial - the two-week long election campaign commercial season which has just ended had its fair share of memorable images. But as we go to the polls on Tuesday to choose the 18th Knesset and the next prime minister, are we going to be humming any of the jingles composed for the dozens of commercials created by sophisticated ad agencies for the 34 parties in contention? It depends whom you talk to, a campaign strategist who incorporated catchy jingles into his party's commercials, or a creative talent who decided that words are more memorable than melody. Long a staple of almost every party commercial, the campaign jingle, almost like the election ads themselves, is becoming part of an anachronistic past, a remnant of a more innocent, nostalgic time when Israel only had to fear being pushed into the sea with conventional weapons by its Arab neighbors. In fact, as often as not, the campaign ads aired by the major parties didn't contain any music at all, as the spin doctors and strategists behind them preferred instead to focus on the seriousness of the post Operation Cast Lead message. "I think that the level of election ads in recent years was progressing quite rapidly, but the war in Gaza has shuffled everything and brought us back to level one," says Hadar Goldman, president of veteran Tel Aviv advertising agency Zarmon-Goldman. While Zarmon-Goldman's steady diet is built on fashion clients like Fox and Delta, the firm has also worked on a number of party ad campaigns, including Ehud Barak's run for prime minister in 1999 and the Meretz campaign in the 2005 elections. "According to the Maslow pyramid developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943, survival is our basic need. And the ads show that we've gone back to that - physical survival," adds Goldman. "So there's not much room for a catchy jingle when you're talking about survival." Jingles - or musical logos, as they're called in the trade - can play an integral role in an election campaign, according to Shmulik Noifeld, a musician and composer who has been writing music for election campaigns for almost 20 years. Among them are the Labor Party's 1992 jingle "Israel is waiting for Rabin" which The New York Times likened to a commercial for detergent, Shimon Peres's campaign in 1996, Amram Mitzna's campaign for prime minister in 2003 and, most recently, the 2009 Kadima ads. "What a jingle is trying to do is to create an identity for the subject, and create emotions in the viewer - to connect the viewer to what the party is saying in the ads," says Noifeld. "Things have gotten much more sophisticated than in the past. The political parties are no longer like Coke - relying on a jingle. Today, it's taken more seriously, and music is used to create connections and add color with subtlety," he added, citing his own Kadima musical signature based on the melody of "Hatikva." "The Kadima musical logo is, I think, a successful attempt to create a consensus. Everyone is for "Hatikva," he says. Consensus was behind the reasoning of Uri Levron, Kadima's creative director, who works with strategist Reuven Adler to develop the party's ads. "What you want is that it makes a connection that Kadima is something that belongs to Israel - and what's more Israeli than "Hatikva"? It creates a strong connection in your heart," says Levron. Levron, who was part of the team behind Ariel Sharon's run for prime minister in 2001, actually coined Kadima as the name of the party, but credited Adler with making the Kadima-"Hatikva" connection when the party was being formed in 2005. "We were discussing the concept of hope, and how the jingle should reflect the fact that what we were trying to create was more of a national movement than a political movement, something that unites instead of separates. Reuven came up with the idea of using the melody of 'The Moldau' by Smetana that provides the inspiration for 'Hatikva,'" says Levron. "There's the line that uses that word 'kadima.' And we knew we had something good when we were able to base the jingle on that word," Levron explains, singing along for effect. Even an impartial observer like ad exec Goldman agrees that the Kadima jingle set a gold standard for effectiveness. "A good jingle shouldn't identify the party, but the big idea, and should appeal to the very basic foundation and core of our primitive emotion," he says. "Kadima, until now, has been a miracle. Every day it survives is really a miracle. It's a party that was founded not very long ago on the shoulders of one man. But its jingle makes it sound like it's all about tradition and has been around forever. It's brilliant." It's for that reason that Kadima resurrected the jingle for this year's campaign instead of composing a new one. "When you use a jingle in a regular ad campaign, it wears out after a few months. Since we used it only for a couple of weeks two years ago, it hadn't worn out, so it was fine to bring back again," says Levron. Over at Labor headquarters, it was the brevity of this year's war-shortened election season that prompted their strategists to choose a different solution - no jingle at all. Mordy Amar, a campaign strategist and advertising veteran who also worked on the Labor campaign in the last elections and supervised Amir Peretz's 2003 Am Ehad campaign, explained that there wasn't enough air time for a new, untested tune to stick to viewers' ears. "It's one of the conscious decisions I made with my staff," he says. "To establish a new jingle takes time. In a short election campaign like this one - which really only began after the war - and is only lasting two weeks, you don't really have time to establish a musical identity with a jingle. Anyway, you can't remember most of the ones you hear - they all sound so much like the beginnings of Eurovision songs." Instead Amar and his team decided to expend their efforts on creating a memorable campaign they hoped would set itself apart from the other parties - using "regular" people like mechanics and home renovators in monologues which, in a rambling manner, pitched party leader Ehud Barak as a straight-shooting, experienced and dependable leader. "If somebody sits in front of the TV for an hour and tries to watch this mass of commercials, they get this feeling of sameness - all the ads look alike and you can't remember who said what. And the images all look the same - in the front you have talking heads, and the back is an Israeli flag, and there's some heroic marching music playing. It's ridiculous," says Amar. "We decided to be different - no talking heads and no heroic music. Whatever everyone else is doing, we're doing it differently in order to stand out." According to Amar, the unorthodox ads have solicited many opinions, but ultimately everybody has noticed them. Even so, just making an impact is not everything in a campaign ad - with music or without - says Hadar Goldman. "You can be distinct but still be terrible, and Labor has done that with its ads," he says. "It's trying so hard to be unique, but the strategy is so old, using the mechanic for example. The tools it's using are like a Mapam campaign from the 1950s. I think the party should give a prize to any viewer who understands the message it's trying to transmit with those commercials." The Likud has also made minimal use of music and its short, long-standing musical ID in its commercials, preferring to let its security-heavy message carry the weight. "We've had the same jingle for years, and it's fine with us," says a party spokesman. Likewise, Israel Beiteinu nixed using a jingle in any of its ads targeting disloyal Arab citizens. "It's an old way of doing politics - it just wasn't thought about," says party strategist George Birnbaum. "We have track music in the background where it's required." According to Kadima's Levron, not featuring music at all is a mistake, precisely because most viewers don't really pay attention to whether there's music or not in the ads, which leaves a lot of room for the imagination. "That's what's so good about music, it's subliminal. If you don't use music in an ad, it's a decision that only you are aware of and leaves you handicapped and at a disadvantage. Nobody else is going to notice if there was music at the beginning of the ad or not. But the next day, it may subliminally seep into their minds," Levron says. The parties that are still making the most prevalent use of jingles are the most traditional - the religious parties and the Arab parties - and the fringe parties like Green Leaf, who have nothing to lose. "Music that you've heard before makes for the best musical logos," says Labor's Amar. "If you already know the music, you'll be likely to remember it. Take, for example, the jingle for the NRP," and here he sings a few bars of the traditional Jewish wedding niggun which tops the National Religious/Jewish Home party commercials. "It's a fantastic song for them, everybody knows it and you get some feeling from the music," he says. Likewise, Goldman found that as much as Labor's innovative ads failed in his eyes, the Green Leaf commercials succeeded in their off-the-wall attitude. "The best ad, creatively speaking, and which makes the best use of music, is Gil Kopatch playing the guitar in front of the Knesset for the Green Leaf party. That party is so different and it's so clear whom it's talking to and what it's talking about. It's really managed to differentiate itself," says Goldman. But featuring a snappy, hip soundtrack, like many of the Meretz commercials do in their attempt at youth appeal and vitality, isn't always going to reel in the votes unless you forge a visceral bond with the voter, cautions Labor's Amar. "Meretz's commercials have had interesting music, but it was nothing that would connect the viewer with Meretz. If you can't connect the creativity with the brand you're trying to create, then it's ineffective. There's no sense in being creative for the sake of creativity," he says. Indeed, as advertising professionals have increasingly dominated the election commercial field, it often does feel like the creative process sometimes outweighs the actual message going into the ads. Gimmicks, innovativeness, slogans and the overwhelmingly negative campaigns run by most parties have blurred any efforts to delve deeper into what a party stands for and what it hopes to accomplish if elected to the Knesset. Or as Goldman says, "Advertising works better than the product itself. As I say to my clients, I never let the product interfere with my work. Advertising works - go to your cupboard and I'll guarantee you that 85 percent of the products in your home are items that were advertised on TV last year. "Choosing whom to vote for is much more an emotional decision than buying a product - even though we're sure it's a rational choice, and we think we know exactly what's best for the country. But in fact, it's emotional. And the choice you make has two significant aspects - one, usually you vote against something as opposed to for something, and two, the message of the party, including the jingle or musical logo, must be a part of what you vote for, it must recruit you from the bottom of your stomach." So, when you go to the polls on Tuesday, the tune you're humming might just give an indication of which way your vote is going to go. And it will all depend on the results as to whether the party candidates will be going to bed that night with a sad or happy song in their hearts.