6.19.2006

On Behalf of My Entire Industry: Um, Sorry.

1 in a possibly infinite series.

As long-time readers may know, my musical tastes tend to be stuck somewhere between 1975-1986. And yet, I am somehow responsible, as part of my job, for finding music (or finding the people who find music) and putting it into commercials.

I can only give you my word that I do not impose on the American television-watching public that which I impose on my own household. While Journey may get a bit of play (shut up) on my iTunes, I would never lay it into an ad except with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Don't Stop Believin' has no place in some heartfelt commercial about believing in the power of Charmin. Or whatever.

In fact as any of my co-workers can attest, one of my personal most reviled advertising tactics is the use of song lyrics that "say" your strategy or product message. One needs an exceedingly delicate touch to pull this off, which is why it works one out of every bazillion times.

Heinz did it with Anticipation. Nike did it with Revolution. But when Rolling Stones classic Let's Spend the Night Together is reduced to a plea from Sheraton to book a room for your next convention, I throw up in my mouth just a little.

This sounds a tad harsh from me, perhaps. I'm really not a snarky bitch, as fun though it may be to play one at times. In fact, I hope I'm fairly sensitive when it comes to critiquing commercials (besides my own which are always fair game). I know as well as anyone that it takes hundreds of people to make a great ad, but just one to make a bad one.

In other words, there's always some bonehead along the way, generally on the client side, who dampens your dreams of fame and glory by asking you to put his talentless kid in the ad; to put your half-million dollar production in the hands of his best friend, the budding director; or to use a sitcom star who has as much to do with the brand as Marlon Brando has to do with soy cheese--and oh by the way, this actor wants to help "write" the ad. And he wants to perform it in drag.

All of these have happened to me. And worse.

Do the words Zestfully Clean mean anything to you? Back in the beginning of the ol' ad career, I was asked to turn that jingle into a reggae arrangement. For the black folks. Because you know how the black folks like the reggae.

So let's just say there are a lot of talented copywriters and art directors out there who no more want to be producing the garbage that makes it onto tv than you want to be watching it.

But when an obscene advertising budget compells a copywriter to buy a wonderful song and turn it into something crude and commercial, I find it hard to hold my tonge.

I am sad about the deterioration of the alternaclassic Our House by Madness. Once it was a quirky little tune back from the early days of MTV. Today apparently Our House is what they sing when they spontaneously break into song around local firehouse, because they're Just That Excited about drinking Maxwell House coffee.

I am also pretty miffed about Ritz Cracker's use of the Modern English classic, I'll Stop the World and Melt With You. This song used to bring me back to Freshman year in high school. To slow dances with small sweaty boys who wanted to feel my non-existent boobs. To Nic Cage at his most totally rad like omigod. And now? I think of dancing cartoon characters enjoying a high-sodium Nabisco product.

But I am nearly distraught at the Dorito's Guacamole Chip commercial, which depicted a woman who, One Way or Another, was going to get her get her get her get her Dorito's off the top shelf of the supermarket. Why, Deborah Harry, my former idol? Whyyyyyyyyy? Ceratainly this pains you as much as it pains me.

I can't change the world. I can't even change the advertising world. But maybe, just maybe, I can guilt a single copywriter into reconsidering licensing Billy Preston's Everybody Wants You to promote Applebee's new chicken fajita salad.

I do it for my daughter, truth be told.

Because one day I'm going to be humming a song in her vicinity. It will be something with great meaning to me. Something that once shook me to my core, something with the ability to careen me back in time to a place of profound pain or love or angsty teenage rebellion. And upon hearing this, Thalia will say,
Oh! The maxi pad song!
And I will cry.


53 Comments:

Anonymous JGS said...

Ugh, I have the same problem with my brother-in-law and he is 22. When my Okapis are old enough to hear one of the songs from my generation and say, "Oh, that's from that Depends commercial. Why are you singing that Daddy?" I'm going to end up smashing my head against the wall. Then you can refer to me in your next news update. "Man slams head against wall while singing song from commercial...Family distraught." Okay, maybe the "distraught" was wishful thinking on my part - but, I mean, it is Father's Day still, barely.

What I am saying is I read you loud and clear. Good night.

6/18/06, 11:29 PM  
Anonymous Asha said...

1. Tonight, for the first time in many years, I listened to Journey's Escape (and thoroughly enjoyed it...memories of slow dances in high school and Steve Perry's mullet). And then I read this post.

2. At our wedding, instead of playing the song we chose for our first dance ("It Had To Be You"), our band played "What a Difference a Day Makes." As my new husband and I swayed to the music, he suddenly stopped, looked at me and said "Why are they playing the Men's Wearhouse song?"

6/19/06, 12:23 AM  
Blogger Veronica Mitchell said...

Oh, the things I miss by not having a television.

And I haven't seen a political ad in three years.

No regrets.

6/19/06, 12:34 AM  
Blogger Queen Haline said...

You said it, sister!

Brings back the memories, tho..

6/19/06, 12:52 AM  
Blogger Mary-LUE said...

Bravo! I didn't even like the use of Revolution by Nike... Ever since then, it is out of control. Keep fighting the good fight, Mom.

6/19/06, 1:31 AM  
Blogger Lady M said...

Great story!

My husband always wondered if "Roam" by the B-52's would get attached to a cellphone commercial. "Roam, if you want to, roam around the world."

6/19/06, 1:34 AM  
Blogger toyfoto said...

Lust for Life as a Carnival (or whatever) cruise commercial made me cry a little. It also made me realize I done with commercial television. I watch HBO and PBS where the music isn't shilling doritos as much.

Your industry has TOTALLY made me laugh, though ... it's just, I guess, with all the money people are shelling out for these half-minute spots, creating their own jingle is way too risky.

Great post, as always.

6/19/06, 6:57 AM  
Blogger chichimama said...

I am so, so glad I am no longer in advertising everytime I read your posts like this. It was just.not.for me. I shudder to t hink of the songs I helped ruin, reluctantly of course :-).

6/19/06, 7:08 AM  
Blogger Mega Mom said...

I don't know about the songs, but I can't tell you how many times I sit there and look at my husband and say "who the hell thought that up?" The mind is a strange thing...

6/19/06, 7:33 AM  
Anonymous krista said...

OOh man, you have no idea how much I enjoyed readiing this. I have such a love hate relationship with the world of advertising (as it seems you do as well). And the part about turning Zestfully Clean into a reggae song? THAT was absofuckingloutely hilarious. Too funny to be real.

So what happened with that? Did someone actually turn zestfully clean into a reggae song? In retrospect those commercials always were like, extra white dudes shaking their straigt wet hair enjoying the splashes coming from the shower head.... Maybe the needed to spruce it up.

but reggae for zzestfully clean. All day I'll be trying to think up reggae versions of that jingle. thanks mom101. really. Haha.

6/19/06, 7:39 AM  
Anonymous Motherhood Uncensored said...

Ah yes. I like to think it's the power of music. But perhaps it's that we all have bad taste and are suckers.

:)

6/19/06, 7:54 AM  
Blogger Robin said...

Yes. Often I *hate* when one of my favourite songs is used for promoting products. Sometimes I don't mind. I think it has to do with my perceived 'quality' of the song.

For instance, I was very unhappy about "Revolution" being used as a Nike commercial. (And it wasn't the remaining Beatles themselves authorizing its use... since they don't own their own songs). Some things should *never* be touched.

However, I must admit that generally I feel better if they use the actual original recording, rather than a re-recording, or especially a (shudder) lyric change to support the product. (The one exception is "I'd like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company..." but I was a child when that one imprinted on me!)

And thanks for the apology. Just keep trying your best to use your awesome power for good.

6/19/06, 7:57 AM  
Blogger R. Sherman said...

That's how you know you're getting old. One of "your" songs turns up on a commercial.

Cheers.

6/19/06, 8:23 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Toyfoto: Don't hate me - your Iggy Pop complaint would be my fault. I originally used Lust for Life to relaunch Mitsubishi in 98 and it ran for a year, after which the cruise line agency "borrowed" the idea in a notorious bit of interagency pilferage. I always pouted about that one but now you've made me reconsider.

Krista: It was an African-American targeted radio effort for zest and the junior (hello) copywriter tends to get that kind of assignment. We recorded the jingle Zestfully clean...Ja mon! Zestfully clean... and it ran. Somewhere in the south. Far far from me, thank God.

Robin: Interestingly...I'd Like to Teach the World to sing was written as a jingle for Coke. It became so popular, that they extended the arrangement and released it as a single.

So that's one advertiser you can't fault for ruining the song!

6/19/06, 9:04 AM  
Blogger Mommy off the Record said...

OK, tell me the truth, do you guys ever place subliminal messages in those songs, like "buy, buy, buy," but said backwards and hidden in the background vocals somewhere?

p.s. If you need a really cute one-year old boy for ANY of your commercials, e-mail me and we'll talk.

6/19/06, 9:46 AM  
Blogger macboudica said...

Then there are the just plain creepy comercials with no music. Like the Skittles commercial with the guy with the long beard in the interview who is eating the skittles with his beard? That one frightens me. It makes me want to throw upp in my mouth a little every time I see Skittles on the shelf. Ugh.

6/19/06, 9:57 AM  
Blogger gingajoy said...

Ha! This post cracked me up--I too was quite alarmed by the Maxwell House appropriation of one of my favorite songs. One thing I will say, though, is that ad is so fricking weird--letting all those normal people sing and all--it almost works. But not.

6/19/06, 10:35 AM  
Blogger gingajoy said...

ok--somehow managed to miss the quaker oats ad copy back in march. Shirley McClaine? Crunchy? Get me a bowl NOW!!! (am wiping tears from my eyes cracking up) Why Shirley, Liz? Why???

6/19/06, 10:39 AM  
Blogger Marie said...

psst --- I have a whole bunch of Journey on vinyl in my attic if you wanted it. I was their #1 fan....

6/19/06, 10:53 AM  
Blogger toyfoto said...

I'm never going to hate you, don't worry.
I also understand the flip side of this: The fact that the use of the music for a few seconds regenerates interest in the actual, uncut songs. There's something I always try to remember before I rant about my favorite songs selling shoes or whatnot; It's all about money. We all kinda like to think art (and music) should be charished above all things that we don't even see IT as a business, that needs to generate returning customers, too.

6/19/06, 11:13 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Chicky said...

That damn nabisco commercial. I was disgusted when I heard that.

I have to admit, and I feel a bit like a dork for doing so, that whenever I see a particularly funny commercial on tv I wonder to myself "I wonder if Liz had a hand in that?".

But the next time I hear Journey in a commercial I'll know with absolutely certainty that you were behind it.

6/19/06, 11:36 AM  
Blogger Mrs. Davis said...

First of all, I want your job. How cool to pick the music for commercials. Think of the influence you have on our culture. OMG.

Journey? Why, how? I have a copy of Foreigner 4 on CD because a couple years ago I decided I needed to hear "Waiting for a Girl Like You" many times, over and over.

I do cringe at the super-obvious songs in commercials. HP used a cover of the Beatles' "Across the Universe" a couple years ago in a camera/photo-printer ad, and it was perfect.

6/19/06, 12:00 PM  
Anonymous standing still for once said...

Thank you. From the bottom of my highschool class of '81 heart, thank you. Child, my precocious ESPN memorizing son, refers to some of my favorite songs as the "beer ad." Now, when we're in the car listening to the classic rock station, I quiz him. He is now able to identify AC/DC from the quality of the lead singer's voice, and U2 from the particular rifs on The Edge's guitar. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, he's got them cold. But, the ad industry is doing NOTHING to help my Child's well rounded music history education. Thank you.

6/19/06, 12:57 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

Well, maybe I'm too much of a consumer, but I kind of liked that new Nike commercial with Tiger and his dad set to The Zombies.

6/19/06, 1:55 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Minnehaha: No, I'm with you on that one. Great ad, great song. I cried when MetroDad pointed me to it.

Mrs davis: It is a totally cool thing. I have a WSJ article that pointed to an ad I did as bringing a little known song onto the charts. POWER! I HAVE THE POWER! Scary, isn't it.

6/19/06, 2:22 PM  
Anonymous neva said...

i don't have to blame *you* for "Crumbelievable", do i?


by the way, that spot for Quaker Toasted Oatmeal? brilliant!

6/19/06, 3:21 PM  
Anonymous mummyv said...

1. when i lived in london i dated a guy who's claim to fame was that he was the voice on the Body Form commercials (Body form are UK maxi pads). He sang: "Whooooaaaa... Body Foh-orm, Body Form for uuuuuuuuuu!" They hired him because he sounded like a woman. *so proud*

2. if you ever do a commerical with Journey's "Faithfully" in it I will buy that product off the shelves.

6/19/06, 3:34 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

I'd just like to thank whomever was in charge of halting all Old Navy/Morgan Fairchild/Fleece Shirt Things commercials.

I supposed you do have to go back in time to find songs with enough meaning to fit a product. If you think about it - what the hell product would go well with lil Jon's "Snap Yo Fingaz"?

6/19/06, 3:37 PM  
Blogger Oh, The Joys said...

Don't tell anyone, but I have the odd Journey song on my iPod too..."Just a smalltown girl, living in a lonely world..." Yep.

6/19/06, 4:29 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

I know this isn't the right thing to say to someone who does TV advertising... but this is one of the reasons I have TiVo. ;-)

I do get stuck with a lot of the radio commercials, though, and there's one that's been on ALL THE TIME that uses the Barenaked Ladies song "One Week." That song annoyed me after the first 5 times, but it's REALLY getting old now as a commercial. Hate it!

6/19/06, 4:32 PM  
Anonymous Chantal said...

When I first heard the song "If I Had A Million Dollars" by the Barenaked Ladies in high school, I wonered how long until a lottery corporation picked it up. They squeaked by over 10 years before it finally happened and I was sad.

Do tell though, if you know, why do car companies go for techno music for their ads? I love Fatboy Slim and I hear him all over in car ads now.

6/19/06, 4:43 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

NO! The worst, the utter worst one to me right now, is that effing "Don't You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me" song being sung while a BEER BOTTLE dances around.
My god, people! First of all, the song sucks buttock, second of all, do you REALLY need to point out the choice between women and alcoholism that men make? Actually, it's even worse than that. It's "hey, dude, being a drunk? Waaaaay better than a committed relationship."
ARGHH!
Sorry.
[/soapbox]

6/19/06, 5:10 PM  
Blogger carrie said...

Oh, I feel this way too. I think it is because we are getting OLD! We are the "targeted audience" of many a producer and that is scary to me! Thanks for all of your great insight on the ad world, it's fascinating!!

Carrie

6/19/06, 5:16 PM  
Blogger Jess Riley said...

"Oh! The maxi pad song!" hahaha! Great post, as always.

Yes, it's so true...beloved songs can be forever marred by their appearance in a commercial. I haven't been watching much TV lately, but I do know I recently remarked to J that I miss honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned JINGLES. Why do all of our favorite songs have to be co-opted and ruined? Why?!?!

6/19/06, 5:30 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

Great post as usual. Please, please tell me you had nothing to do with the Pussycat Dolls song for the Best Buy commercial. I want to shoot whoever did that. The only thing worse than actually hearing that song is singing it at 2am in your head when you can't sleep.

6/19/06, 6:03 PM  
Anonymous Kristin said...

What an interesting career!

I have commercials stuck in my head often; I suppose that's a good thing for advertisers.

I sing "hands in my pockets, hands in my pockets, hands in my pockets!" to Nolan as a lullaby when all else fails. Neither of us know what it means, though.

6/19/06, 6:11 PM  
Blogger Stephanie A. said...

I used to fancy opening an ad agency that would fight all of the evil tv commercials have started over the years. But then I realized what I was up against and had to sigh and shrug.

Good for you for trying. It kills me when I hear meaningful songs played with the background of toilet paper or diapers.

6/19/06, 6:14 PM  
Blogger Pendullum said...

I can not believe thqat I am sining along to muzak tunes in the supermarket...
They were cutting edge songs... and to think that 'Blister in the Sun'... basically about shooting up... is now a song that is sung in the aisles of my local supermarket!

6/19/06, 6:28 PM  
Blogger Mother Bumper said...

I have often thought what songs are going to come back and haunt me that way. Because I too threw " up in my mouth just a little" when I heard Ritz using Modern English and Madness being sang by ice rink employees drinking coffee (Canadian version). Now you tell me of Blondie and I read in the comments 'Blister in the Sun'. Oh my. I remember when I had to listen to 'Blister in the Sun' really really low on the tape player (yes TAPE) so my parents couldn't hear it... because it was naughty. Oh how I loved that song when I was 15.
Wow. Great post as usual Mom-101.

6/19/06, 7:09 PM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Aha Chantal, now you have stumbled into advertising music nirvana here: Fatboy Slim. It's the kind of music that works on eeeeeeverything. It's upbeat, not too polarizing, not too popular, clients don't find it too "hard" and it's cool enough for the Ted Baker-clad hipster ad guys.

I confess to having used it, along with Moby (nirvana junior), on many rough cuts myself. But alas, we can never afford to buy an actual piece. Maybe that's a good thing?

My agency has a car account. Feel free to suggest a piece you'd like to see on tv...

6/19/06, 8:11 PM  
Blogger Fidget said...

when i heard nirvana songs were being sold i died a little. All i need is Curves advertising with 'Come as You are" or Secret using "smells like teen spirit"

6/19/06, 8:32 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...

The Husband reminds me frequently that he is not on the creative side of the commercials that he's involved in making, which means, for him, that he is not responsible for whatever Kraft/Swiffer/Budweiser travesty is burning my corneas and/or searing my psyche. And that in his spare time he produces PSA's for things like breast cancer awareness.

This does not let him off the hook.

What lets him off the hook is the fact that TV commercials put a roof over our heads and food in our mouths and almost make it manageable for me to stay at home to raise a future dictator.

You do what you gotta do. And if YOU can keep some of the more precious gems of music history out of the hands of Tampax, that will be a whole lot.

6/19/06, 9:09 PM  
Blogger nonlineargirl said...

I'm glad you are on our side, using your powers for good.

6/19/06, 9:10 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

You know what it will be don't you? "In your Eyes"

Yes. They will clusterfuck that song some day. And we will all weep for John Cusack.

6/19/06, 9:18 PM  
Blogger Mocha said...

That wasn't nice. You know I haven't been feeling well and you go and make me giggle until I piddle in my pants.

Not. Nice.

But it's the funniest shit I've read ALL DAY. I knew I linked you for a reason.

6/19/06, 9:48 PM  
Blogger something blue said...

I loved reading your take on this. I've spent the last decade trying to beef up some of the advertising industry's personal CD collections in hopes that they will place one of our songs in an ad.

We hope that music evokes memories and hearing a song will make all those moments come rushing back. Suddenly those warm feelings leave you feeling sentimental about buying a Toyta Sienna.

By the way, I have what I think is a brilliant parody idea for Visa.

6/19/06, 10:03 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

Huh. So the Coke song was a jingle first. Well, I must say, that was one *hell* of a jingle. I guess that's how you do advertisements "old school". Instead of renting someone else's song, just write your own!

You know, though, I still think it's too bad that Ford trucks scooped Bob Seger's "Like a Rock" before Viagra had the chance to use it.

6/19/06, 10:30 PM  
Anonymous Joel said...

My personal commerical low came when hearing a Queen song being used as the score...I felt personally violated having grown up a major Freddy Mercury/Queen fan. Freddy must have rolled over in his grave - thank god he wasn't around to hear it! At the opposite end of the spectrum I'm always amazed at groups who seem to license every song ever recorded for commercial use...Smash Mouth comes to mind.

Great post!

Joel

6/19/06, 10:35 PM  
Anonymous Elizabeth said...

Did you have anything to do with the Capital One commercial with Five for Fighting's song 100 Years? That song chokes me up every time I hear it.

What a cool job you have!

6/19/06, 11:32 PM  
Blogger lynsalyns said...

"Because you know how black folks like the reggae." Oh that is PRICELESS! You are too, too funny.

Did you perchance go to college in Boston?

6/19/06, 11:39 PM  
Blogger sunshine scribe said...

You gotta know I loved this one. We were bantering about this just the other day after dinner as I begged my husband to stop his agency from bastardizing one of my favourite 80s tunes to sell Five Alive.

6/20/06, 9:16 AM  
Anonymous Nila said...

I was in love with a Cold Play song, and the first time I heard it in a commercial, it was ruined forever. Why is that? I actually like commercials, but when a song is used in one, it always seems like a sell out for the artist. And that's so not cool. Thanks for using your power for good.

6/21/06, 4:15 AM  
Anonymous staci said...

As another summer begins, I remember my summers from junior high and high school and I listen to the 70's and early 80's on my XM radio...my 5 year old son sings Bay City Rollers song "SATURDAY NIGHT" how's that for old? They just don't make music as they did in those decades! Gotta Love it!

6/21/06, 5:25 PM  

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