Guitar Center Turns Video of Metallica’s James Hetfield Into an Ad

Original clip got 1.7 million views

A new Guitar Center ad featuring Metallica's James Hetfield wasn't meant to be an ad at all.

The 30-second execution was cut from a longer video that the retailer filmed to accompany a cover story about Metallica in Guitar Center's catalog, said Dustin Hinz, vp of brand experience and entertainment marketing. That 13-minute video went up on YouTube in February and has since generated more than 1.7 million views.

In the video, Hetfield, the lead singer and guitarist in Metallica, talks about his first guitar, feeling "in the zone" when he plays, and how, as a kid, he was painfully shy. "Music was the voice I didn't have," he says. The last bit was turned into the ad, which breaks today.

The original video:

The 30-second spot:

The original video "blew up overnight online," said Hinz. "We went back to James and we said, 'James, we would love to cut this into a 30-second commercial because it so perfectly fits our campaign.' And he was ecstatic to do it because he loved the piece."

The TV spot is the latest in a brand campaign from Pereira & O'Dell in San Francisco that broke in February with an ad featuring Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson, the drummer for the Roots. Guitar Center plans to break an ad every three months or so. Next up is electronica artist Steve Aoki, a musician, producer and record label founder.

The campaign stands out in a category of retailers known primarily for promotions and price-point ads. Indeed, Guitar Center aims to build its brand into something more than that now. And while the featured musicians are well-known, they're presented in a down-to-earth, relatable way. Screen copy near the end of each ad says, "All we sell is the greatest feeling on earth."

"We're sort of the powerhouse in our segment, and we felt that if we didn't do it—if we didn't try to start a campaign to inspire—that it might not happen," Hinz said. "So, that was a big reason we took the chance."

Media spending behind the campaign was not dislcosed. Last year, Guitar Center spent more than $20 million in media, according to Kantar Media.