Mozart’s tuning fork saves the day and commercial

Published 2:42 pm Sunday, July 23, 2017

By Terry Haller

I dragged my self to work this morning. I have to stop those late nights. My secretary is filling my water jug at the office fountain. If you look down through the drain grate you can see a big cockroach. He’s been there all year, antennae twitching.

Betty sets my water jug on the desk tray. It’s my sole status symbol. I never use it because Cincinnati water smells like a rotting wood pile. “Who was that blonde you were with last night?” she asks.

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“My sister,” I tell her.

“You don’t have a sister. Come on. Do you have a new girl friend?”

“Where did your spies spot us?” I ask.

“At a bar in Indian Hill.” Word travels fast in Cincinnati. I’m almost 30 and still not married, which makes me gossip fodder.

The phone rings. It’s Karen Porter, the brand manager for our newest brand, Hidden Magic Hair Spray.

“Can I come over? I want to talk about the commercial,” she says.

A minute later she arrives and sits down.

“Was that girl you were with last night your wife?” she asks.

“I don’t have a wife,” I tell her.

“So you’re not married. I always thought you were. There are so few of us single people here,” she says, making it sound like I’ve missed out on something.

“No, marriage isn’t for me,” I explain. Karen cocks her head like a dog hearing a new sound.

After a five-second dramatic pause she gets down to work: “There’s something funny with the audio. The harp glissando, when Wanda waves her wand, sounds sour.”

Hidden Magic is our revolutionary new hair spray product. Its unique selling proposition, as they used to call it, is that it won’t leave hair sticky and tangled. I remembered reading consumer reports on what women hated about regular hair sprays, and had stumbled over the word “combable.” I couldn’t figure out what it meant until my secretary said it meant, “you could comb it.”

Karen’s commercial uses a witch as a mnemonic device. Not all ad agency ideas are original; it was no accident that “Bewitched” is the top-rated sitcom. In our commercial, a girl has tangled hair after using her old hair spray and Wanda the Witch uses her magic wand to untangle it. That’s where we put in the harp music that Karen doesn’t like.

Karen is a sharp MBA with a promising future. She’s also a knockout, and way too militant for a chap like me. I tell her I didn’t notice anything wrong. I take her to our audio-visual lab, and we play the commercial a few times. She still insists the sound isn’t right.

“Well, it seems okay to me,” I say, “but let me check with the agency and see what they say.”

The agency refers me to the recording studio and the guy there says: “The distortion is intentional and it only sounds funny on your professional equipment. It’ll sound perfect on a normal household TV set.”

He explains the mechanics of sound waves and I stop him: “I can’t relay that explanation to the brand manager. I’d screw it up. It’s way too complicated.”

“Ever heard the story of Mozart’s tuning fork?” he asks. “They found Mozart’s tuning fork and discovered that his A-note was around 420 Hz. That’s about 20 Hz lower than today’s norm.”

“Why the difference?” I ask, thinking this New York sharpie may be pulling my leg.

“Depends on the concert hall,” he says. “Some conductors like a sharper violin sound to carry in a dull hall.”

“Well, I can’t get into stuff like that. Make it simple for me,” I tell him.

“Just tell her we used Mozart’s tuning fork so it’ll sound better in the average home.”

The next day Karen grabbed me in the cafeteria and asked: “Did you sort out that audio problem?”

“Yeah, and you’re going to love this. I talked to the sound technician. He’s the best in New York, and he’s done a remarkable thing with the glissando. In order to give it extra oomph, he massaged the A-note a bit. Made it brighter so it delivers more drama on a living room TV. On the audio industry, they call it ‘using Mozart’s tuning fork.’”

The Mozart story worked. Karen was happy and she went on to have a successful career but in another consumer-goods company. Without Karen to guide it, Procter & Gamble dropped Hidden Magic a few years later.

Despite my anti-marriage remonstrations, I was married within the month and the blonde and I are still together. It was a simple wedding. One Saturday morning we slipped across the river and got hooked in Kentucky. This way no one would know and there wouldn’t be any fuss at the office. But Sunday’s Cincinnati Enquirer reported the wedding anyway.

I only remember two things about the ceremony. I had brought one ring, and the justice of the peace only knew the double-ring ceremony, so he made me use his, which was as large as a cattle nose ring. Also, Mozart’s “Wedding March” was absent from the ceremony. The JP’s wife put a record on an old wind-up Victrola as we exchanged vows. Her selection was “Always” by Patsy Cline.   

Terry Haller is a retired advertising executive. You can reach him at