Music Goes Commercial

As we ad people slither safely out of an unrelentingly complex year/decade, an unmistakable tipping point has transpired: the concept of “selling out” has been taken over by “selling in.”  Think of Pearl Jam doing a Target ad — that’s nuts!  

The recording industry’s dip from $40 billion in annual sales to half that these past 10 years has been well documented. Due to this seismic shift, advertising could do nothing but reap the benefits and tap into an ever-widening reserve of music.

With this in mind, here are 15 brands that made great use of music from 2000-09: 

1. VW Cabriolet. Nick Drake, “Pink Moon”: Drake’s arresting, drug-addled, British-public-school-accented song increased album sales for an artist who had taken his own life some 25 years earlier. It also instilled the belief that ad music could take a brand, a 60-second piece of film and a car, and approach the realm of Art. Also successful: J. Ralph’s score for the VW spot “Squares,” a deceptively simple electronic track. VW is to ad music as Trainspotting is to film scores. 

2. Various Brands. Moby, Play: It’s believed that every song from this album (actually released in 1999) was licensed for either an ad, videogame, TV show or film. The music was so popular that it generated copyright infringement complaints and a hyperbolic geometrical formula called “The Moby Quotient” that presumably calculated the degree to which a band or recording artist has sold out.

3. Apple. Yael Naim’s “New Soul,” Feist’s “1-2-3-4,” The Ceasers’ “Jerk it Out,” U2’s “Vertigo” and more: As Billboard noted, the No. 1 way for a band to get maximum exposure was to get its track on an Apple TV commercial. Dare I say it? Apple is to advertising as The Beatles were to pop music.

4. Sony. Jose Gonzalez’s “Heartbeats” and Alana Davis’ “Carry On”: Gonzalez, a Swedish indie folksinger and songwriter of Argentinian descent did a soothing cover of the Knife’s song, providing a stunning sonic juxtaposition to 250,000 colored balls bouncing on the streets of San Francisco. Davis’ masterful cover of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Carry On” could have become a smash hit except for its unfortunate timing: the ad, about a businessman going up in a space shuttle, was pulled after the Challenger crash.

5. Honda. The “Grrr” spot, featuring Garrison Keillor’s “sing-speak,” had a meaningful message about diesel fuel, superior animation, a memorable whistling hook and won the Cannes Grand Prix — what more can I say? 

6. Adidas. Karen O, “Hello Tomorrow”: This hauntingly beautiful track was created by Squeak E. Clean’s Sam Spiegel and realized through the voice of Karen O of the Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs.

7. Cadillac. Led Zeppelin’s “Rock n Roll”: Surely this was a lucrative deal for the English power-rock band, but the ROI for Cadillac was humongous. Equally huge was the amount of people in the biz who claimed credit for making the deal.

8. Old Navy. Ingrid Michaelson’s “Who I Am”: The track from this ukulele-strumming Staten Island singer isn’t necessarily any great shakes, but it started a mini-revolution of ingénue-like, sweet-voiced female vocalists that seemed to grace so many ads for so many years, including those for JC Penney, Target, Kohls and even Apple.

9. Mitsubishi Eclipse. Dirty Vegas’ “Days Go By”: We in the ad world all know that this track helped take an unknown band to a known place and inspired lots of folks to buy a track that they first heard on a car commercial. In fact, it opened the door for other little-known bands and artists to collect some nice cash from car companies.