Welcome to No Shame November! This week we’re diving into the pop culture we love that society tells us we shouldn’t.
Watching Lizzo twerk to the Empire Today jingle is the closest I’ve come to time travel. Because while the Grammy winner’s immaculate TikTok graced my For You Page just last month, the memories it conjured pulled me much further back.
Lizzo’s dance to the familiar tune flooded my mind with afterschool hours spent in front of the family TV. That “800-588-2300” lick wafted over our living room the same way then. But it was jammed up against Disney Channel or alternating blocks of Law and Order and Psych. Now, juxtaposed with a modern hip hop icon and blaring from my smartphone in 2021, the video acted as a kind of wormhole between eras.
This is the sort of sentimental experience I and thousands of others have come to cherish and expect from TikTok. Though many see TikTok as innately current, it’s also become a communal space for nostalgia where specificity is valued and rewarded. TV jingles have received a new lease on life through the app, with everything from a capella renditions of “Nationwide is on your side“ to choreographed dances honoring FreeCreditReport.com.
Carlos Castillo, aka @thenostalgiclatino, started posting to TikTok a few years ago. Now, his throwback videos featuring TV jingles are an important part of how he connects online.
“The very first TikTok I did that went viral was the Shirley Temple DVD collection commercial,” Castillo told me on the phone with a laugh. He wondered if he was the only person with memories of falling asleep on the couch as a kid, to be awoken sometime later by the shrill serenading of “Animals crackers in my soup! Monkeys and rabbits, loop-de-loop.“
Hundreds of thousands of views and sprawling comments suggest he wasn’t alone.
“It made me happy — and I know this sounds a little weird — but somewhat validated that what I thought was a very, very specific thing was actually pretty common,” Castillo shared. “And not just with people my own age, but with a lot of people across a couple of generations. That blew my mind.”
Castillo is 35 and I’m 26, but it wasn’t long before our conversation dovetailed into an impromptu “Education Connection” duet. Castillo suspects these moments of spontaneous association drive the success of his videos.
“I think the TV jingle triggers a particular supplemental memory of something that happened in your life,” he offered. Realizing you and another person have something in common, Castillo added, always helps to build a friendship. “It feels really good to reminisce with strangers, especially right now.”
Elton Tumbay, aka @planb3e, uses TikTok to have the same kind of nostalgic experience with a twist.
Appearing in some of his most popular videos, Planb3e carries a gold microphone and an amplifier into a crowded area. A rapper himself, Planb3e actually joined the platform to promote his music. However, he blew up by singing others’ songs. As he passes by strangers, he’ll belt out the first few words of a popular song or sometimes a TV jingle. Then, he’ll wait for his unsuspecting duet partner to respond — something he said strangers will do almost involuntarily.
“People really respond to the nostalgic feeling of the songs we’re doing,” he told me in a phone interview. “But more than anything it’s the bright smile, the energy, the positivity. That always gets reactions.”
These call-and-responses range from the simple (“Reeeed Robin!” “Yummmm…”) to the complex (“I have a structured settlement and I need cash now! Call J. G. Wentworth! 877-Cash-Now!”) Across TikTok, other popular TV jingles are just as varied.
They’re not focused on any one product, with Subway’s “Five Dollar Foot Looong” popping up just as often as Farmers Insurance Group’s “We are Farmers — bum bump bump bum bum dum bum.” And how they’re presented is similarly shaped by countless creators. Some TikTok accounts react to TV jingles, while others transform them into something new through dance, comedy, or lip-sync.
Still, these earworm tracks connect us.
“They were a big staple in our lives,” Planb3e added. “Now, we have Netflix and streaming platforms. But before we only had basic cable. We all had a limited number of channels to watch…So we all saw the same shows, the same commercials, the same everything.” In a way, he said, it bonded us.
It’s a funny thing how fragments from the past that once grated on us can come back into our lives shined up by the passage of time. But on TikTok, a lot of old ads are new again and not at all annoying.