Want To Start A Riot? Ask About The Best Song Ever Used In An Ad 869 words · 5 minute read

Want to start a riot at a music agency? Throw out this question after lunch:

“What’s the best song ever used in advertising?”

The Director of Artist Services tosses his favorite into the ring. Then the Creative Director voices her opinion. Then the Marketing team gets into it. Even the interns offer their votes. Before long, the nerf guns are drawn, alliances are formed and oaths are sworn. Despite the enormity of the question, an agreement finally surfaces:

Gatorade’s 1991 commercial, “Be Like Mike.”

The spot and its accompanying song have since been penned into the bible of music supervision, even earning a place in Darren Rovell’s book on the brand, First in Thirst. According to Rovell, Michael Jordan was Gatorade’s first official athlete partner. For the inaugural spot, the creative chief of the brand’s AOR, Bayer Bess Vanderwarker, was reportedly inspired by the song “I Wanna be Like You” from the Disney film, The Jungle Book. The creative in question, Bernie Pitzel, wrote his own lyrics rather than license the Disney song and contracted local songwriter Ira Antelis to turn the words into a hit song.

Antelis now works out of the Music Dealers Chicago office as our in-house custom scoring consultant. Ira, one of Music Dealers’ first supporters and there from the beginning, smiled a faraway grin, rife with nostalgia, when he was told about our team’s eventual decision on the best song ever used in advertising.

“If we had used the music from The Jungle Book, the advertisement would have been forgotten. Instead, we generated a piece of music that we could own that the world could identify with Gatorade.” Ira Antelis

According to Rovell, Gatorade then made cassettes of “Be Like Mike” and distributed them among radio stations. Three months after the commercial first aired, Gatorade sold nearly 100,000 copies for $4.95 each. Even other NBA teams acquired the cassette and used the song as a promo tool when the Bulls came to town.

And 23 years later, for the brand’s 50th anniversary in 2015, Gatorade released a series of “Be Like Mike” commercials, including a remastered version of the original. And through them all, the same iconic tune choruses behind the video. “This Is How You #BeLikeMike” has earned 1.2 million views on YouTube in two months. “We all still want to #BeLikeMike” has earned 4.3 million in four weeks.

That’s why the Music Dealers team ultimately selected “Be Like Mike” as the best song ever used in advertising.

Its lifespan and impact exceeded all other options we could think of, and a jingle of comparable popularity has yet to surface in the industry. Nor do we expect one to do so anytime soon.

The millennial mindset does not have the same palette for jingles as former generations. Gone are the days of infectious jingles of Oscar Meyer Weiner, Kit Kat Bar, and Meow Mix. Sonic branding – building a brand through the use of music and sound – less relies on jingles. Consumers can see through the overly commercialized style of traditional jingles, and they now value music in such a way that harshly judges brands that lean on artificial tunes as a way of grabbing their attention.

The modern consumer now looks to brands as curators of great music, not just creators of catchy tunes that will get stuck in their head and fester like a guilty obsession. This belief naturally begs the question, “Then why choose ‘Be Like Mike’ as the best song ever used in advertising?”

Nowhere in the song is the brand mentioned.

The lyrics don’t entice listeners to buy a thirst-quenching Gatorade, nor do they suggest that Michael Jordan is purely a sponsor of the drink. At its core, the song is meant to connect a world of aspiring sports stars with their hero. No gimmicks. No mnemonics. No brainwashing.

The creatives behind the campaign focused on enriching the lives of the brand’s consumers through the music, rather than thinking of how many rhymes they could generate from ‘Gatorade.’ That’s why the campaign worked, and which is why the song could be re-leveraged 25 years later to astounding success.

The true marketing power of music doesn’t come from just a catchy jingle, nor will it come by thinking about the brand first. As we explore in our new eBook, The Marketing Power of Music, music is most effective when it connects with consumers in such a way that engages them with true affect. Music in advertising must make people feel, not just hear. Music in ads should be reminisced, not just remembered. Feel, reminisce - these are our very objectives whenever tasked to create a custom work, and the outcomes that eventually spell success for our clients.

A group of music supervisors, A&R experts and music marketers standing in an office with nerf guns, each gazing nostalgically skyward. Each watching our childhood hero soar towards the imaginary hoop in our minds. Each silently mouthing the words, “You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be … Like Mike … I want to be like Mike.”

Now pass me a tissue before you ask me what’s the second-best song ever used in advertising.

By: Zach Miller, Music Dealers