This week, two stories got my attention in an interconnected way. The first was the news that Tastykake had been sold to Flowers Foods, a Southern baked goods company. It is depressing that ownership of another of the brands most associated with Philadelphia is moving out of state. However, given Tastykake’s debt troubles, at least the brand will live on and the new plant down at the Navy Yard will stay, along with most if not all of those jobs (that at least delivers some value for the extensive state funding poured into Tastykake in recent past). Better still, Flowers Foods has plans to take Tastykake from regional to national.
That brings me to the other story, which was a regional-to-national success from yesteryear. I heard it by chance on my car radio because Mike Gallagher was celebrating how a multi-generational Chicago area family meat packing business exploded on the national scene in an unexpected way. One of the ad agency execs was recalling for Gallagher how it happened. At the time, the company was on its second generation Oscar and he was a typical, hard-driving CEO of the era.
He called his agency in for a meeting one day and announced that what they needed was to be on the radio with a jingle. The agency folks thought to themselves that TV was the place to be, but Oscar Mayer was driven by limo to work every day and was an avid radio listener. A few weeks later, hoping Oscar would move on to other things, the agency was surprised to be called to his home and to be serenaded by the piano-playing hot dog magnate. The song was an old ditty that the Mayer family used to sing together — even the old man admitted that it was not very good. He added, though, that the agency had 30 days to deliver something better or he was going to go on the air with his song.
The agency turned to a number of jingle writers, one of whom was especially talented as a songwriter, but not as a performer. So, he got his kids to perform his amazingly simple but memorable melody. Despite some early trepidation about the jingle being too childish, the Oscar Mayer jingle was rolled out to instant popularity and memorability and the brand skyrocketed to national status and innocent fun that as this video demonstrates carries over to today.
Could Tastykake follow a similar regional-to-national brand trajectory by pursuing the Oscar Mayer jingle path? Even Oscar Mayer moved away from its own jingly roots last year. While they already have their own memorable “Nobody bakes a cake as tasty as a Tastykake” tune that is well established here, it is a digital world now and even a hyper-creative viral video might not be enough to win the day nationally (I think the taste of Tastykakes elevates them about typical snack food fare and is their greatest asset). At least they don’t face the challenge faced by a global baked goods company with its US headquarters in the Philadelphia area — getting people to pronounce the Bimbo brand as B-E-E-E-E-M-B-O.
All this jingle talk also made me sad, because it reminded me that the area lost its own great resource in 2009 when Andy Mark passed away way too prematurely at age 58. His Philadelphia Music Works was responsible for many local and national gems. We were fortunate to work with him on music for Buten —The Paint and Paper People, Shop ‘n Bag, and Thriftway. Andy would have loved hearing this week’s tribute to the Oscar Mayer jingle.