CANNES, France—Note to Deutsch: Iggy Pop has some ideas for your Volkswagen advertising. But you're going to have to keep a very open mind.
The punk legend had an entertaining chat with Grey London chairman and chief creative officer Nils Leonard on the main stage in the Palais at Cannes Lions here Wednesday. (It was the latest installment of the annual Grey Music Seminar.) And it included a surprising amount of Iggy-as-creative-director, weighing in on advertising, which he clearly treats with a fair amount of skepticism even as he has no problem making a buck now and then off endorsements himself.
"I don't know much about advertising, other than I've done six or eight fairly major ads as a subject," he said. "Volkswagen has had problems lately because they were naughty. They lied about the omissions, blah blah blah. And I thought, you know, when I was in college, there was a wonderful spontaneous gesture that swept the colleges all over America. Kids would try to see how many people they could get into a Volkswagen Beetle. A revival of that—something that's just fun—would be probably worth 25 corporate mea culpas."
So far so good. But Iggy wants to spice it up a little.
"You could do it naked on the internet!" he exclaimed, chuckling to himself as he brightened to the idea. "Have different kinds of people. How many tall people? How many short people? How many Armenians could you fit in a Volkswagen? People would forget about the emissions! Or maybe cover a Volkswagen with a sign on it that says, 'Naughty.' And have women in bondage gear whipping it. Punish that Volkswagen! Maybe a giant robocop comes in. Elicit sympathy for the Volkswagen! I'll bet people wouldn't 'Skip Ad'! "
The reference to Armenians was an amusing callback to an earlier back-and-forth with Leonard about Kim Kardashian, whom Pop defended—mildly—as an inspiration to other young Armenian women, and a somewhat alternative vision of beauty amid the current Western ideal.
"She's got a big old Armenian butt, and little Armenian legs, and is a nice-looking Armenian beauty," Pop said. "I like beautiful things. I even love pretty clouds. And there's so many different kinds of beautiful people, and beautiful imagery, and beautiful things to appreciate in the world. It seems like, through some process of unnatural selection, we're just presented over and over with the cowboy, the swinging detective, the 6-foot-plus blonde model with no butt. I think [Kim] helps. … It's probably an unintended side effect of Kim's career."
So, what is Pop's favorite advertising? 72andSunny will be happy to hear this.
"I liked the Carl's Jr. ad. There was a girl in a bikini taking a big bite out of a Carl's double burger. I watched it," he said, to laughs from the audience. "And also just because it was Carl's. It's a cheap hamburger joint, you know. I was comfortable with that."
Then suddenly, he was creative directing again.
"If BMW hired me, if I was writing the copy, I'd go, 'THIS IS A FUCKING BMW! SHUT UP AND BUY THE FUCKING CAR, WHAT THE FUCK, ALRIGHT?! BUY IT!" he shouted with a laugh. "Something a bit less smooth, I would say."
Less smooth has been an Iggy Pop hallmark for decades, of course. Growing up in Michigan in the '50s, he was as immersed in advertising as every other young kid in America. He was particularly drawn to ads for the Detroit Dragway, which had an excitable guy yelling at people to come see some drag racing. It had an energy to which Pop could easily relate.
"I like high-energy shit. And one day, behind one of those voiceovers, it was the fucking Stooges. It was me," Pop said, referring to his old band. "I was so thrilled. I felt like I was somebody. I felt like I was in the society. I had never thought about getting paid for it."
Along with his more ridiculous mock ad ideas, Pop also had some thoughtful things to say about marketing—and what you really need to give people to have them respond to you.
"In my work, I have a god, and that's the public," he said. "The public is my god. And this public god does not like supplicants. The public god wants some action. They want you to sock it to 'em. And I suppose, in advertising, it gets tricker. I would assume ultimately the company's god has to be the buyer, the buying public. And in the middle is this kind of voodoo priest called the ad guy. You've gotta convince the client that you're gonna make it rain—and that if it does rain, it was your doing!"
The key, though, is really just to believe in what you're selling, he added.
"It doesn't have to be something vulgar, either. It can be something very interesting," he said. "You have to give people love. And by that I don't mean 'I love you so much!' But if there's nothing in what you're putting out there for which you feel love, if you don't have something that came out of your gut one day and it was either fun, or moving, or liberating, or something that quenched your true human desire, then you put it out there calculating how people are going to react—'Then they'll believe that if they buy this, they're the Most Interesting Man in the World!' or whatever—I don't think it's going to add up to much in the new world."
At one point, Leonard asked Pop, who'll be 70 next April, about getting older. And the rocker admitted that while he still stage dives—Pop continues to find it amusing that people say he "invented" stage diving, "like I'm up there with Gutenberg!"—he has had to rein things in a bit.
"To me, when I think of 'old,' I think of a process of giving up, or giving ground, and a shrinking of the sphere of life," he said. "Those are necessary tactical situations that arise as you live longer and longer. Not to mention, you have a history, too, so everyone's got the goods on you. But in my case, I've kind of gotten a pass on that. I feel better, in general, now than I did when I was 18, 19, 21 … I don't mind the spot I'm at, but it's a new spot. There's a lot of things I can't do now that I could do when I was 25. But because I was basically kind of a loony, what's happened with me is that the less I can do, the better off I am! But I can do a music show, and I enjoy that. And I can do an advert, or a part in a film, or a radio show. And I really enjoy those things."
He did allow himself one regret, though.
"The toughest thing for me—and I probably share this with entertainers, peripatetic people, musicians—is that it must have been terribly hard being my parents for a long time," he said. "There's humor is that, too. But it must have been really hard. I had wonderful parents. They did everything they could for me. And I think I wasn't as available to those two people as I would have liked to have been later. I wasn't truant, but not as available, and I think that's a shame."
It was a charmingly open moment, and not as bleak as it sounds. It was also just another side of a key Iggy Pop trait—honesty—that's propelled a career over almost 50 years.
In all, it turned out to be one of the more enjoyable hours of the week here in Cannes, and it ended on an amusing note, too. Before the talk, at the urging of friends, Leonard had decided to do the interview shirtless, for charity—he did raise more than £2,000 Wednesday around the idea. And while both men wore blazers during their chat, they stripped down at the end and posed together—to delighted cheers from the crowd.
Next time, maybe they'll even stage dive.