Todd Millenacker didn’t get the message that the jingle is dead.
Companies have turned away from catchy, old-fashioned ditties created by ad agencies urging you see the U.S.A. in a Chevrolet or informing you that their bologna has a first name and a second name.
Instead, advertisers who need to sell cars or credit cards or tennis shoes just pay to repurpose a hit by Prince or the Beatles or Lady Gaga.
Even if a big company wanted an original jingle, it wouldn’t consider an unsolicited tune tossed over the electronic transom by a guy from Savage who has a day job as a freight broker.
Which is why Millenacker’s lawyer told him he’d caught lightning in a bottle when he got a contract to sell a song to Little Caesars for use in a national TV ad campaign.
Millenacker isn’t just a one-hit wonder in the lost art of jingle writing.
He sold a second song to Little Caesars, which was used for radio commercials. Now he’s creating a rap video internet commercial to hawk a back hair shaver for men, and he’s tossing around lyric ideas with another potential client.
“It kind of opened up Pandora’s box,” said Millenacker. “Wow. People pay for jingles. I kind of fell into it.”
As a young man, Millenacker played in dive bars around the Twin Cities in an electropunk band called Avenpitch. The band eventually broke up, but Millenacker kept writing songs, recording them in his basement under the name Monkey Warhol.
Warhol is a reference to the 15 minutes of fame Millenacker is hoping for. The monkey is a nod to the “infinite monkey theorem,” which proposes that an infinite number of monkeys banging on typewriters for an infinite amount of time will eventually produce all the works of Shakespeare.
Maybe something similar could happen if you put enough songs out on the internet, said Millenacker, who was a philosophy major at the University of Minnesota.
“You throw out enough crap, and something eventually gets some attention, which is actually what happened.”
Millenacker estimates he’s written about 450 songs with titles like “Bongo Booty,” “Coolio Julio” and “Don’t Tickle the Pickle.”
“I didn’t say any of these tunes were good,” Millenacker said. “Every time you write a song, you think, ‘This is the song.’ I’m 40. I’ve got boxes of CDs that aren’t the song.”
But people who have found his music on free sharing sites like Bandcamp and Free Music Archive have used his pop tunes as background music for exercise videos, video games and podcasts. Then, he landed a jingle.
The right delivery
His jingle-writing break came last year when he and a buddy were at the Metropolis Resort in Eau Claire, Wis., with their families and they saw that the resort restaurant offered a “Gorilla Pizza Challenge.” If the two of them could eat a 30-inch, 8-pound pizza in one hour, they would get the pizza for free, plus a T-shirt and a mention on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
His friend, Kris Verplank, finished his half. But Millenacker threw up in a bucket with nine pieces left to go.
“My kids are just like, ‘That’s the coolest. Dad just threw up.’ ”
The take from Verplank’s wife: “Man, you’ve got a couple of pizza babies in your belly.”
Millenacker thought, “Pizza babies? That’s kind of funny.”
He went home and wrote and recorded a song that went “Pizza, pizza, so nice to meet ya. ... Let’s get married and have some pizza babies.”
By his own reckoning, it was “not exactly Bob Dylan.” Still, he sent the song to Little Caesars. Twice. A couple of days later, Millenacker’s wife answered the phone and a man on the other end started singing, “Pizza, pizza, so nice to meet ya.”
It was Walt Frederiksen, senior director of advertising for the pizza chain.
Frederiksen said he occasionally gets unsolicited pitches sent to him by aspiring songwriters.
“Ninety-nine percent of what I hear is godawful. But this thing rocked. This thing was catchy,” said Frederiksen, who used to work as a radio DJ and has written a few jingles himself. “All I had to do is listen to it once, and I knew he had what it takes.”
With a little adjustment to the lyrics, Millenacker’s new version of the song ended up being used in a TV campaign on NBC shows like “This Is Us.”
“My folks would call me each time it was on,” Millenacker said.
While he hasn’t quit his day job, he has made more money from jingles than he ever made as a musician. Even his 9-year-old daughter, Lexi, got a check for $200 for her part in the jingle. (She can be heard saying, “You’re delicious!” on one version of the song.)
It’s a rap
The inspiration for his next jingle came when he wrote a song he sang on Facebook to help Lexi sell Girl Scout Cookies to family and friends: “You know you want it. Yum yum. You know I got it. Yum yum ... I got your Girl Scout Cookies.”
Just by changing the lyrics to “I got your $5 lunch combo,” he was able to sell it to Little Caesars for a radio campaign.
“That was like the most profitable five minutes of my life,” he said.
Millenacker is working on another jingle for a company called Mangroomer, which sells an electric razor with an extra long handle that men can use to shave their backs. Millenacker once wrote a song called “Manscaping” (included on a CD with a furry cover) about a guy dealing with his excess body hair.
Mangroomer wasn’t interested in a traditional jingle, but they asked if he could do a rap song. Oh, and could he also shoot a commercial for the internet?
Although he’s not an experienced rapper, he was willing to give it a try.
He bought werewolf costume fur and is filming a commercial with his buddy Verplank. The commercial features Millenacker shaving and rapping: “ ‘I got your back,’ my buddies always say, but when I ask them to shave it, they say, ‘No way.’ Now I got the answer, right here on my shelf. With the Mangroomer, baby, I don’t need no one else.”
Could the Mangroomer song become as ubiquitous as the “Meow Mix Theme”? Stay tuned.