How Pop Songs Become TV Ads

  • Devo re-records their biggest hit “Whip it good” as “Swiff it good” in a TV ad for the floor cleaner Swiffer.
  • The Beatles song “All you need is love” is licensed by Luvs who use it for their campaign, “All You Need is Luvs”
  • “Blister In the Sun ” by the Violent Femmes, a seminal punk bank, is used in an ad campaign for Wendy’s hamburgers.
  • This summer Wilco licenses 6 songs from their new album Blue Sky Blue to Volkswagen who uses all 6 songs in ad spots for their latest campaign marking the first time a multitude of songs by one artist/band is used in a single campaign.

Where is today’s cash cow for the music business? It’s the placing of famous or upcoming pop songs in TV commercials. We’ve all heard and seen these ads. Led Zepplin’s “Rock’n Roll” has become the main branding vehicle (no pun) for Cadillac. The ad speaks to those 40-year-olds that can now afford Cadillacs by co-opting an anthem from their youth.

There’s no doubt the trend will continue. Commercial jingles are a thing of the past. Today’s ad strategy is about branding. You put a product, no matter how bland, next to a song that has a “coolness” factor to it, or, in the case of the Beatles “All You Need is Love”, acknowledged cultural value, and voila, the product achieves instant significance or even hipness.

But by glorifying a product, no matter how banal, the song is immediately devalued. If today’s protest song can be tomorrow’s theme for toilet tissue, then the power of a song to effect culture becomes weakened. The power of the song becomes about how much money it commands when it is licensed for commercial use.

The Culture Is the Commercial

Jay Babcock, the publisher of the art and music magazine Arthur makes this point…

“What kind of culture sets up a system where the only way to hear good music is through TV commercials for products you don’t need?” Babcock said. “What little art is out there has to sneak in wherever it can, being stand-ins for jingles. It’s the sign of an unhealthy culture. The culture is eating itself.”

A recent New York Post article reports that the recording artist Fergie recently inked a $4-million deal to sing about Candie’s teen apparel on her next album. “The 32-year-old Black Eyed Peas singer is the first global star to consent to product placement in her songs – agreeing to include the provocative clothing line Candie’s in her lyrics.”

I don’t know that this matters to some bands, they are living in a music business that is sinking into chaos by the day and they are looking for cash, a reward for their work. When Wilco, a major act, licenses 6 songs to Volkswagen saying they are doing it as a way to get their music out there, you know the music business has drastically changed and these artists are looking for the type of payday that used to be available to successful bands through albums/radio play/touring. That old model of success is, apparently, broken.

According to Greg Lane, senior vice president of ad agency GSD&M in Austin, Texas, ad pop is a mutually beneficial relationship. “It’s a marriage of two brands. It’s the client’s brand, be it AT&T or iPod, as well as the brand of the band itself,”Lane said.

“Part of the deal is, you’re never going to make everyone happy. And there’s no such thing as bad press. Even if fans are upset, it might not affect sales of what’s being advertised “it might increase sales.”

The artist does pay a price for dealing in “ad pop”. Their fan base can get turned off and look for music elsewhere.

As the great musician Tom Waits says “By turning a great song into a jingle, advertisers have achieved the ultimate: a meaningless product has now been injected with your meaningful memory of a song,” he said. “The songs and the artists who have created them have power and cultural value, that’s why advertisers pay out millions for them. Once you have taken the cash, you, your song and your audience are forever married to the product.”

Wilco song in Volkswagen commercial

Of Montreal song “Wraith Pinned To The Mist And Other Games” re-recorded with the words changed to “Let’s go Outback tonight” for Outback Steakhouse

More on this subject…

Under the Influence: The Pop Song as Advertising

Where have all the Jingles Gone

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *