By Andy Green (SERIOUS Creative Director)
When I heard of the death of Robert B Sherman, the man who penned the words to the song ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ and many other great Disney hits brought to mind two thoughts:
Will they use the song title on his gravestone – and how will they fit it on?
Secondly, why is the song about a word that was completely made up, unusable in common parlance and rhymes with the word ‘atrocious’ so popular?
The answer is that it is ‘sticky’. Not that you get goo on your hand when playing it.
Rather, that the song has the ability to get through your mind’s defences – you may not like the song – and lodge in your head, and stay there.
Admit it, the song is now buzzing in your head, and sorry, but will stay there now for some time. (If I have already ruined your day, why not go the whole hog and mention other ‘sticky’ songs like ‘Agadoo’ and ‘Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’
How are these songs able to be such powerful tools of communication? You don’t want to receive them, they don’t add to your life, but they still get through.
Can the lessons of these songs offer guidance for enabling your other messages to be similarly sticky and powerful?
One reason these songs work is that music can be encoded by our brains in so many ways, in what is called a ‘multi-sensory stimulus’
Music is often encoded in a very personal and emotional way. When anything is encoded with emotional or personal connotations, it enables it to be memorised and recalled better.
I developed a creativity technique for my creativity classes from reading Daniel J. Levitin ‘The world in six songs’ and according to Levitin, in a pre-literate age our ancestors needed help to make things memorable.
Levitin, an expert in the neuroscience of music, explains: “For a very long period of time, we needed to remember information like where the well is, or which foods are poisonous and which aren’t, and how to care for wounds so they won’t become infected.”
Although humans have been around for some 200,000 years, written language may have been invented only around 5,000 years ago. Through much of human history people memorised important information through the medium of songs.
The combination of rhythm, rhyme, and melody provides reinforcing cues that make songs easier to remember than words alone. The practice continues in cultures with strong oral traditions – and for when I have to remember a new pohone number or shopping list!
What can make a song sticky? How can you cook up a sticky message?
Your ingredients include:
- Repetition or recency of exposure
- Mnemonics structure or associations which provide retrieval cues
- Mnemonics meaning through organization or imagery
- External triggers – such as people (who’s in your mind when I say ‘My Way’?) or situations (your ‘first dance’ song) are associated with it.)
A final thought, and let’s pay tribute to Robert B Sherman. His son Jeffrey Sherman wrote on Facebook that his father “Wanted to bring happiness to the world and, unquestionably, he succeeded.”
He also demonstrated the perfect art of creating a sticky message.