The 5 Worst (and Best) Ad Songs of All Time

The right song can help a product shine — but the wrong one can hit an off note. Billboard consulted with a six-person panel of experts in advertising and branding to determine our list of the best five songs in commercials — and five that made viewers reach for their remotes.

The Panel of Experts
• John Campanelli, vp of marketing, Sony/ATV Music Publishing
• Geoff Cottrill, chief marketing officer, Converse
• Stephanie Diaz-Matos and Sara Matarazzo, executive producers/music supervisors, Search Party Music
• Mike Tunnicliffe, brands, technology and entertainment entrepreneur, Tuna Music/Filament Entertainment Group
• Josh Rabinowitz, svp, director of music, Grey Group

Source: Billboard.com

THE FIVE WORST
 
5. AARP: “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” – Buzzcocks

When Manchester, England, proto-punks the Buzzcocks let their song be used for a membership drive from the United States’ largest senior citizen lobbying group, it finally proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that punk isn’t dead. It is, however, exhausted, retired and taking it easy down in Florida, playing shuffleboard in elastic-waistband pants and slip-on shoes. –David J. Prince


THE FIVE WORST

4. Swiffer: “Whip It” – Devo

Watch It

In 2003 the original members of Devo went back in the studio to record… a new version of their classic track for a Procter & Gamble commercial. While frontman Mark Mothersbaugh insists the group only allowed the use of its song because of the ad’s absurdity — “When you’ve got a dirty floor/You need Swiffer” — it’s hard to reconcile the young punks who asked, “Are we not men?” with the middle-aged guys who ask, “Are we not shills?” –David J. Prince

THE FIVE WORST

3. Wendy’s “Blister in the Sun” – Violent Femmes

When thinking about sinking your teeth into a juicy hamburger, “blister” isn’t exactly the first word that comes to mind. But Violent Femmes lead singer and sole songwriter Gordon Gano must have been thinking about something else when he signed over the rights to his song — he’s a strict vegetarian. Bassist Brian Richie wasn’t amused: “When you see dubious, or in this case disgusting, uses of our music you can thank the greed, insensitivity and poor taste of Gordon Gano.” –David J. Prince


THE FIVE WORST

2. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line: “Lust for Life” – Iggy Pop

Watch It

While it’s funny to imagine a gaggle of geriatric vacationers grooving in the sun to the sound of Iggy Pop, this pairing of the punk godfather’s classic with generic leisure travel is memorable mostly as a travesty. Moshing on the lido deck! –David J. Prince

THE FIVE WORST

1. Victoria’s Secret: “Love Sick” – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan not only contributed one of his best recent songs to this TV commercial, he also appeared in it – the first time he had done so. Presumably because someone believed there’s no better way to promote a lingerie brand than having an old dude hanging out in the panty aisle.


THE FIVE BEST

5. McDonald’s: “A Minha Menina” – Os Mutantes

The use of Brazilian psychedelic rock band Os Mutantes’ “A Minha Menina” in a McDonald’s TV ad during the 2008 Summer Olympics was “pretty unexpected,” says Sony/ATV Music Publishing VP of marketing John Campanelli. (He wasn’t directly involved with the ad, but he admired it). “Putting a non-English-language song in a mainstream ad for a company like McDonald’s — and having it work so well — is a testament to the band that the music actually gives forth such a feeling of exuberance,” he says. The 1968 song’s tropical melody and fuzzy guitar tone plays during a minute-long scene of children competing in a soccer match. The winning team celebrates with a large gold trophy, while the losing team heals their loss with Happy Meals. The commercial drove a significant increase in Os Mutantes’ sales: In the week ending Aug. 10, 2008, downloads of “A Minha Menina” climbed 1,638 percent compared with the previous week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. –Mitchell Peters


THE FIVE BEST

4. Apple: “Jerk It Out” – Caesers

Caesars never received the acclaim that artists like Feist and Yael Naim got from their iPod spots, but this 2005 ad for the first-generation iPod Shuffle set the template that turned iPod ads into one of the most important platforms for music discovery since the invention of radio. The contrast of the silhouetted dancer against the solid-color background, with the white iPod and headphones in constant motion, put the music front and center. “It was an innovation on so many levels,” says Stephanie Diaz-Matos, founder/creative director of Search Party Music. “The product itself was an innovation, and the way they used a little-known song to drive the spot was both an innovation in advertising and emphasized the very reason to buy the product.” –David J. Prince


THE FIVE BEST

3. Nike: “Revolution” – The Beatles

In 1987, Nike produced a commercial that played the Beatles’ “Revolution” over a montage of grainy black-and-white footage of triumph and defeat. It included superstars like Michael Jordan and John McEnroe, as well as energetic children, exhausted triathletes and speedwalking seniors. But the ad got even more attention when the Beatles’ company, Apple Records, started a legal battle that wasn’t settled for two years. “The Nike ‘Revolution’ use was monumental in many ways,” Rabinowitz says. “Not only did it resonate with the visuals and concept, but it really opened the door to high-concept ads utilizing great — and expensive — music. It also broke ground for a cottage industry of commercial music-licensing experts and internal commercial-licensing resources and departments at labels and publishers, because nobody wanted to get embroiled in that type of legal nuisance again.” –Evie Nagy


THE FIVE BEST

2. Coca Cola: “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” – The Seekers

It’s a naive hippie concept by today’s standards: “I’d like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love/Grow apple trees and honeybees and snow-white turtle doves.” But the message of unity, and the audacious staging of the ad on a hilltop outside Rome, struck a nerve in 1971. “It was simply the right message, at the right time, delivered through a great piece of music,” says Geoff Cottrill, chief marketing officer for Converse (and former head of global entertainment marketing for Coca-Cola). The Vietnam-era spot “positioned Coke as ‘the’ global brand long before it was cool to be a global brand. They recognized the common values in people of every race, nationality and background.” –Ayala Ben-Yehuda


THE FIVE BEST

1. Volkswagen: “Pink Moon” – Nick Drake

Before Volkswagen used his song “Pink Moon” in a 2000 Cabriolet commercial, only music snobs had heard of the late English folk singer Nick Drake. After the ad — in which a group of 20-somethings shun a crowded house party in favor of a serene joyride — no one could forget it. “The ad was groundbreaking in the sense that it took a great piece of esoteric music and made it click in a meaningful way,” says Josh Rabinowitz, svp, director of music for Grey Worldwide. Sales of Drake’s albums grew more than 1,200 percent and Volkswagen won credibility among its target demo for brilliantly obscure taste in music. “It’s one of the first times that you find a brand making really creative choices,” Rabinowitz says. “When you choose a lesser-known song it’s as if you have your own jingle, and that’s a really clever thing.” –Monica Herrera