Stop the Music

Listening to The Everly Brothers’ “Dream,” I recall a chubby 7th grader impossibly in love with Melissa Waxberg, the most popular girl in the 9th grade. “Dream” is all that gawky 13-year-old could do back then, and I nearly wore out my sister’s 45 of that classic song.

At least that’s what I used to remember when I heard “Dream.” Now when I hear it, I see a dairy-intolerant woman fantasizing about a piece of pie á la mode in a spot for Lactaid, the lactose-free milk. Instead of conjuring up sweet Melissa, “Dream” brings to mind fettuccine alfredo. Chalk up another memory splattered by a cheesy spot.

Memo to Lactaid: Since you interfered with my reverie, I will never, ever drink your milk or whatever you call it, no matter how lactose-challenged I become.

To all clients: Next time your agency suggests a commercial based on a well-known song, more than likely it’s because they couldn’t come up with anything else. Remember the bromide, “If you have nothing to say, sing it”? I should know, I’ve pulled that trick once or twice myself.

But now that I am less involved with “selling” spots to my clients and more involved in understanding them, I get the opportunity to see advertising from a broader and hopefully more objective perspective. From this view, I have concluded that commercials that rely on iconic songs usually aren’t particularly smart—for at least two reasons.

No. 1: They really do get in the way of memories and special moments that make up the richness of our lives. Not only is that a crappy thing to do, but do it often enough and I bet the consumer will end up disliking you. And if they don’t like you, they’re not going to buy you.

For those who couldn’t care less about robbing memory banks, we give you reason No. 2: The connection between the original meaning of the song and the product is often so thin and so off-base that the client ends up looking stupid.

Remember when the Republicans tried to use Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” at one of their conventions? Someone forgot to tell them that the Boss’ song wasn’t a patriotic little ditty but a diatribe against our country’s violent ways. Oops.

How about Mercedes’ use of Janis Joplin’s “Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes-Benz”? The song skewered inane materialism. Just what a gazillion-dollar car maker wants to be associated with.

Hey, Claritin: No matter how much prime time you buy, “After Midnight” will never be about unclogging sinus passages.

Yo, Tommy Hilfiger! One would imagine that Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” is a tad more closely related to anti-Vietnam War rage than it is to stay-press khakis.

Finally, how sad it was to hear Bob Dylan singing his own “Forever Young” under a video of someone’s bratty little kid scampering around an iMac. Bob, if you start selling your soul, how can there be any hope for the rest of us?

Leave the songs alone! Try getting a genuine idea for a change. You’ll see, it’s almost like being in love.