Monday, March 21, 2005

Truth in Advertising

I love that you can hear great songs on television commercials.

I know it's not a new phenomenon—advertisers have been picking up the slack from radio and MTV for almost a decade now. MTV doesn't even play songs on spin-off channel MTV2 anymore, though there are a few choice programs on the two-headed dog, like Team Sanchez and the seizure-inducing Wonder Showzen.

The tipping point for good commercial music came with Moby's Play in 1999—nearly every song on the album, from "Bodyrock" to "Porcelain," was licensed to some car manufacturer or liquor company (the latter was used for a Bailey's Irish Cream advert). The best part was that Moby didn't compromise his integrity with crap like "Like a Rock!" or "Simply the Best." The marketing people just accepted what he had to offer as it was.

[update:As was pointed out by Lisa Liu, it seems hypocritical for Moby to be an environmentalist and do commercials for carmakers. I actually asked him about that when I interviewed him in 1999, and he said that he took the money Ford or Toyota paid him and donated it to transportation alternative groups. Don't know if the ends justified the means, but he obviously gave the issue a lot of thought.]

After the success of "Play," Madison Avenue woke up and realized that if they used cutting edge music in their commercials, they'd attract that essential 18-34 demographic. (Not to mention people of all ages who just like a good beat). Not only are we exposed to music we won’t hear elsewhere, but good non-mainstream artists get a little money to boot.

The stigma associated with marrying music and marketing has pretty much faded. Occasionally things gone awry—like Club Med using the Stooge's "Lust for Life" to promote their family friendly vacation resorts—but by and large it's been a good trend.

I'm not ashamed to say I've been introduced to some of my favorite tracks and bands via TV spots: The Orbs' "Little Fluffy Clouds" (VW Bug) Broken Social Scene's "Lover's Spit" ("The L Word"), The Caesars' "Jerk It Out" (iPod Shuffle), the Von Bondies' "C'mon, C'mon" (FX's "Rescue Me"), the Walkmen's "We've Been Had (Saturn cars) and The Transplants' "Diamonds and Guns" (the woo-HOO!" song in those Garnier Fructis ads). is an invaluable resource—you can just search the forums and chances are someone else is dying to know where that song from the Victoria's Secret "Angels" commercials comes from. (FYI: It's Air's "Playground Love.")

At any rate, I was over a friend's house watching TV last night and a commercial for the new Adidas 1 sneaker came on. The visuals struck me first—a lone man wakes up and runs through a surreal landscape that emerges as he trots by. It was right out of a Bjork video, like a mash-up of "Human Behavior" and "Bachelorette." Then I noticed the tune playing over it, a haunting melody that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It's one of those songs you only have to hear a bar or two of before you think "I must own everything this person does!"

Fortunately we had a laptop handy and started scouring the Web for details. Well, the visuals looked so familiar because the spot was directed by Spike Jonze, who did a number of Bjork videos, as well as Being John Malkovich and Adaptation. The song is an original composition sung by Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Here are the lyrics:
Whenever do i wake up
I'm trying to take the shape of
turning to the whole wide world
I made up.

the lights are golden...

the lights were golden...

Whenever do i wake up
I'm trying to take the shape of
turning to the whole wide world
I made up.

You can watch the ad by going to the Adidas 1 site and clicking on the "Watch TV Ad" button on the top right.

update: Just found out the spot is called "Hello Tomorrow." You can see the whole clip with all the credits here.


At 9:09 PM, Blogger mlliu said...

Just watched the Adidas commercial, and I agree with you, it's quite beautiful as far as commercials go, and maybe I'll even listen to some more of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

I'm a Nick Drake fan because of that VW commercial (a classic, in my opinion). But the use of Moby's music in ads really turned me off. It's partially because on the sleeve of one of his earlier albums, he made such a big deal about how people are ruining the planet, etc. He came across as being so righteous. Then when I started hearing his music in commercials, he struck me as being a hypocrite. If he really was so pro-environment, for example, why would he allow a car company of all things to use his music?

Since then, I haven't listened to any of his work. Maybe I've got my facts wrong, but I still think (probably unfairly) that an artist allowing his or her music to be used in a commercial compromises that artist's integrity.

At 7:53 PM, Blogger J I M said...

at the risk of seeming nerdly squared, there's a commercial jingle i like that is solely a jingle, not a song composed by an independent artist, and extols the worst brewing company this side of that snowbound slope in the rockies where they film pete coors shilling swill, a company duller than a graduate level journalism lecture: budweiser.

"this bud's for yewwwwwwwwwwwww, you and you, and you and you and you. this bud's for yewwwwww..."

pluses: sung with a sly sangfroid. lyrics that celebrate the ordinary people who live on a city block that must be, has to be, in brooklyn. video that is multi-culti and cool.

minuses: budweiser. thinking about budweiser. wasting time wondering if budweiser is, in fact, the world's worst beverage before you remember that you once drank a sage-flavored soft drink in a seaside cretan taverna. (then chased it with ouzo.)

another jingle i like is that happy guitar riff over a conga-like rhythm at the end of some t.v. spot for the virgin islands (i think), the one where the guy with the guava-smooth voice kicks it off with a quick, "let's go..."

At 7:42 PM, Blogger Dan said...

spike jones definitley had something there.
another good one is "blue monday" by "new order" which is in the new mars bar commercial.
too bad that PSP used "take me out" though. i loved that song.


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