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Maddie Dai’s live in TV (Image: Archi Banal)
Maddie Dai’s live in TV (Image: Archi Banal)

Pop CultureOctober 14, 2023

‘I’d walk down the aisle to it’: Maddie Dai’s life in jingles

Maddie Dai’s live in TV (Image: Archi Banal)
Maddie Dai’s live in TV (Image: Archi Banal)

Filmmaker, screenwriter and illustrator Maddie Dai on the jingle so good it should be sung in stadiums, the indelibility of Judy Bailey’s haircut, why she gives glass coffee tables a wide berth and more.

Nobody knows the power of a good advertising jingle better than Maddie Dai. She’s the writer and director of Ministry of Jingle, a quirky new short film that imagines a world where our most complex problems can be solved with snappy slogan and a catchy tune. Starring Jonny Brugh and Kura Forrester, Ministry of Jingle follows new employee Melody on her first day in a government department responsible for creating public safety jingles. While Melody has dreams of creating the perfect jingle to fix big issues like climate change, her colleagues prefer problems with an easy, breezy solution, like seatbelts, condoms or littering.

The cast of Ministry of Jingle: Jonny Brugh, Kura Forrester, Moana Ete and Jaxson Cook (Photo: Supplied)

“It’s a silly, light, and comedic set up, full of human folly and banal office politics, with a lingering but unavoidable sense of dread,” Dai tells us from London, where she’s currently based. Dai says Ministry of Jingle was inspired by New Zealand’s long history of using advertising to warn us in both fun and terrifying ways, like the timeless ACC ad where a woman falls through a glass coffee table. “I don’t know if the point of that ad was to warn us of the public scourge that is glass coffee tables, but I always give them a very wide berth,” she says wisely. 

While Ministry of Jingle is her first short film, Dai is already an accomplished cartoonist, illustrator and writer. Over 70 of Dai’s cartoons have been published in the New Yorker, and a recent pivot to screenwriting has seen her join the writing rooms of hit TV shows Our Flag Means Death and The Power, as well as writing her first feature film We Were Dangerous. As Ministry of Jingle screens in cinemas around the country, Dai shares some of her most memorable TV moments with us, including a Come Dine With Me classic and the surprising jingle she’d walk down the aisle to.

Writer, illustrator and jingle connoisseur Maddie Dai (Photo: Supplied)

My earliest TV memory is… Writing fan mail to Holly from McDonald’s Young Entertainers, as much as one is capable of writing a letter at the age of seven. I probably had to dictate it to one of my older sisters to write, like a Jane Austen character on my deathbed. I never posted the letter, which was an early indication I didn’t have the energy to be a superfan of anything. Enthusiastic enjoyer with too short an attention span to join the upper echelons of fandom.

The show I used to rush home from school to watch was… My mum wasn’t crazy about us watching so much TV after school, but we were allowed to watch the news. We would flick to Friends when she was out of the room. Judy Bailey’s haircut is as indelible as “The Rachel” in my mind.

My favourite jingle of all time is… The Waratahs’ Interislander jingle should be sung in stadiums, it’s that good a song. I’d walk down the aisle to it. All my friends and family would wipe a tear and say “there she goes… sailing to the other side.”

My first TV crush was… Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, who I understand exists cinematically, but 95% of the time I spent with him was through my TV via some well-worn videos. I printed off a full page, full colour photo of Aragorn, and watched (at an excruciatingly slow speed) as it used up the entire inkjet on my perverse crush, printer lines all over his beautiful face. I hung up his picture by my bed.

My favourite TV project that I’ve ever been involved with is… I’ve been working on Badjelly, an animated TV project spearheaded by the Auckland animation studio Mukpuddy, and having the time of my life. 

If my life was a jingle, it would be… The jingle competition that Coastlands Mall held in 2012. I have a memory of a jingle that goes “Looking so good, feeling so fine… Coastlands you make me smile. Do yourself a favour. Check out the flavour.” A euphoric, dynamic number (I imagine, having heard it on the radio) from beautiful women with big hair and sparkly dresses, singing with all the pizzazz of someone opening their Vegas residency. 

I don’t think jingles should match the tone of the place they are selling. Maybe those women had never been to Coastlands, but that doesn’t worry me. I don’t care if you’re selling a place you go to buy a toaster with your nana! Your song can still be cinematic! Glamourous! Seductive!

My favourite TV moment of all time is… It’s a four-way tie between “I’m sorry about your grandma, yeah,” and “Dear lord, what a sad little life Jane”, Stath from Stath Lets Flats trying to get a pigeon out of a house, and Fleabag’s “I love you” “It’ll pass.” Looking at this list, I realise my assimilation to British culture is complete, and I hope this answer will be considered in my upcoming visa renewal.

My favourite TV character of all time is… Jenna Maroney from 30 Rock. She showed ambitious women everywhere the professional importance of being a little deranged.

The TV show that defined my lockdown was… Piri’s Tiki Tour. I watched every episode festering in my overpriced, gardenless London flat, and decided to move home, clutching a pig knife and a spear gun. I got home and realised I didn’t actually need to go hunting deep in the New Zealand bush to feel alive again, I just needed a few pot plants and a spin or two on a boogie board.

The biggest thing I’ve learned about writing for TV is… You can make the characters kiss. A writer’s room is many things, but it is in part a group of adults sitting around talking about whether characters should kiss.

My most controversial TV opinion is… There’s not enough! Give me another five streaming platforms to subscribe to.

Ministry of Jingle is currently screening at the Show Me Shorts Film Festival in cinemas around New Zealand. 

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