To succeed, you must annoy people.
Such is the life of a jingle writer. In Cleveland, there is perhaps no greater success than George Sipl, the creator of the tune used to hype the I-X Indoor Amusement Park. In fact, we're willing to bet that mere mention of the annual event already has the song barreling through your head: "It's here today. Not gonna stay. Let's go to the I-X Indoor Amusement Park."
This month, the jingle turns 10. To celebrate, we wanted to know exactly how Sipl came up with the infamous tune — and why, every spring, we can't get it out of our heads. Sipl, who learned to read music before words, says the simpler a jingle is, the more it sticks with you. "The I-X jingle," he explains, "is basically two notes." Another work of his, "For the best car insurance rates in town, call 1-800-GENERAL now," is only four notes.
Academic research has been done on the topic. James Kellaris, a marketing professor at the University of Cincinnati who has surveyed more than 1,000 people to see what makes songs stick, hails the I-X jingle as "a royal flush in earworm poker." That's because it contains all three elements that make a tune insufferably memorable: simplicity, repetition and an annoying incongruity (when a song does something unexpected).
In the case of Sipl's jingle, the incongruity results from the unnatural pause after the word "the" in the line "Let's go to the I-X Indoor Amusement Park." When the brain finds such an incongruity, explains Kellaris, it tends to hit the replay button.
That expert opinion is confirmed by Clevelanders everywhere who, after hearing their kids sing the tune every April, are plagued by it. Says one Bay Village mother of three to whom we e-mailed the jingle to get her thoughts: "Unfortunately, it's been stuck in my head since I played it."
Sipl's journey into the jingle business began with his love of music. Throughout high school, he played in bands, hiding his long hair (which he still wears) under a clean-cut wig so as to not break the rules at St. Ignatius High School.
His big break came when Eric Carmen of the Raspberries pegged Sipl's band to back him up upon launching his solo career. When "All By Myself" hit it big, Sipl discovered the life of a rock star, touring with The Beach Boys and Hall & Oates.
"When the party was over," he notes, "I was broke, enjoyed scotch way too much and tried to figure how to save a dying marriage."
That's when Sipl decided to focus his musical talent on advertising and media. In addition to "At Spitzer, our world revolves around you," he's composed a slew of other jingles from his Middleburg Heights home studio. He also wrote the lead-in music for Cleveland Cavaliers broadcasts and the tune for the Ohio Lottery's daily televised numbers pick.
While he loves what he does, he knows that, in order to be good, a jingle has to linger. "It becomes like the relative that stayed too long," he says. More than once, he's been out in public when the I-X jingle came over the airwaves. "That is the most annoying thing I've ever heard," declared a man sitting next to him last year.
So, now that it's April again and we're bound to hear his jingle on the radio, TV and from our kids, how can we avoid what Kellaris calls "the cognitive itch" that makes us mentally play the song in our heads all day long? Common balms include replacing the offending tune with a new one, talking about the problem with someone (though you risk spreading the itch) and trying to complete the tune in your head with hopes of ending the cycle.
Kellaris, however, has a long-term plan for dodging the I-X jingle. "I feel a renewed motivation to live my life in a such a way to avoid Hell," he quips, "now that I know what the soundtrack is likely to be."
Sipl would be proud.