You Are Reading About Those Groupon Videos: The Jingle Creators Explain 2017's Most Unavoidable Ad

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Courtesy of Groupon
   

If you've spent any time on YouTube in 2017, you've already heard it -- or at least its first few seconds -- more times than you'd care to count.

That sing-song, deadpan delivery, of a lo-fi jingle that plays more like an inside joke than a pop song -- "YOU are WATCH-ing [genre] videos/ WHILE you COULD be... saving with Groupon!" -- played over candy-colored montages of faux-YouTube videos and Groupon app usage. It's bizarre, it's confusing, and it's mercilessly infectious.

That pervasive jingle, lurking behind the paywall of seemingly every YouTube video you watch in 2017, is the brainchild of the O'Keefe, Reinhard and Paul ad firm -- previously responsible for such similarly irreverent musical ads as their reinvention of the classic Ace Hardware jingle (now including the advice "don't eat paint") and a Big Lots ad that makes a throwback girl-group anthem out of Christmas preparedness.

"As a company, we think music is very powerful," explains OKRP Chief Creative Officer Matt Reinhard to Billboard over the phone. "If you get a song or a track that can get stuck in people’s heads, it might be evil, but the truth is, it’s a lot of fun."

For the "Save On..." series, the firm enlisted a trio of creatives, dubbed Two Rachels and a Keith, to continue the firm's music legacy. Their first series of ads for Groupon in 2016 had experimented with classical music and opera, including 19th-century compositions like "Funiculì, Funiculà" and "La donna è mobile" -- in other words, "Looney Tunes" classical-- and for this online series, OKRP decided to lean Johann Strauss' 1858 opus "Tritsch-Tratsch Polka." But rather than use a famous recording of the song, the firm decided to recreate the melody themselves, opting to "compose it in a way that feels very Casio 3000, or 16-bit," according to Reinhard. "We were trying to speak to a younger audience."

It was up to copywriter Rachel Block, one of those two eponymous Rachels, to write and record the jingle's vocal. "I wrote the song, and then I sang it in the way I did -- 'YOU-are-WATCH-ing” -- in the meeting, and Matt Reinhard was like, 'You should just sing it like that, and record it, and we’ll show it to Groupon,'" Block recalls. So me and my art director Rachel Warner recorded it -- she’s the second voice [responding "oh"] -- and showed it to Groupon."

That recording was supposed to be just a demo, but attempts at a more fully produced version of the jingle failed to create the same enthusiasm as the Rachels' original. "We couldn’t come up with anything that sounded better and more lo-fi than what we [originally] produced," offers Reinhard. "[We decided to] just let it be unplugged."

The ingenuity of the jingle -- which Block describes as "this weird song that works, that was made for the Internet, and seems like it’s from the Internet" -- ties back to how embedded in the music world its creators are. Block performs as a singer-songwriter in her off-hours ("I play acoustic guitar and ukulele and just sing about ex-boyfriends and trouble"), while Reinhard is a music festival regular who was extremely excited to see Cage the Elephant at Chicago's Lollapalooza fest last weekend. One of Reinhard's partners at the firm has an even more direct connection to the city's music scene: Tom O'Keefe's son, Matt, is a guitarist in garage-rock band The Orwells.

"We inject music in a lot of the work that we do -- it’s kind of in our DNA," Reinhard says. "We’re very true to our musical inspiration, but we're showing different reflections of how that can be composed, in a way that speaks to a different audience."

Ultimately, Block recorded five different versions of the mini-song -- for viewers of "style videos," "foodie videos," "beauty videos," "family videos" and "travel videos," with each ad a meta-experience commenting on the YouTube videos viewers are trying to get to after the commercial. "We always have a lot of fun with music, and we felt in this case, if we can get that lodged in people’s heads... and it sure did," Reinahrd says with a chuckle of the jingle's success. "We just think it adds a lot of emotion to [the commercial], and it gets people talking. So whether they love it or hate it, they’re definitely talking about it."

Of course, some of that talk about the unapologetically brain-sticking jingle invariably does fall in the "hate it" camp. Reinhard remembers one particularly memorable poor notice: "Someone mentioned [on Twitter], 'If I were going to vote for a Razzie, it would be for these online videos,'" he says, clearly amused. Block also has heard her fair share of criticism. "I found this Reddit chain that said, “Who else hates the Groupon YouTube ads?'” she recalls. "And I was like, 'Oh my gosh, I’ve made it.'"

Nonetheless, Reinhard points out that the videos have always tested well with audiences, and that a strong negative reaction to the videos is preferable for them to no reaction at all. "It’s kind of like, 'Well that’s the response that we want,'" he says of all the criticism, "because at least people are talking about it."

And Block says that her presence in the series has reconnected her with all sorts of unexpected people. "People I haven’t talked to since high school in my life have texted me out of nowhere like, 'Dude, I just heard your voice on the Groupon ad!' And I’m like, 'What? You could tell it was me?,'" she explains in incredulity. "My ex-boyfriend from two years ago texted me last week like, 'I just heard your voice on this ad!'"

Block is hopeful that she doesn't have to be a Groupon one-hit wonder, either: "We’re still always pitching songs to Groupon, so I could have my round two... there could definitely be a chance in the future." But in the meantime, she's just excited that she finally stumbled over one of the ads on her own.

"The first time I got the ad was like, three days ago, and I screamed in the office," she relates, laughing. "Everyone gets it so often except for me!"