By Jeb Gavin
Sony recently appropriated Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” to sell the PlayStation 4 gaming console.
When I realized they’d tacitly compared spending the day doped up to spending the day playing video games*, I took a long look at the use of songs in advertisements, focusing on research specific to the use of exigent music in multimedia marketing. Then I forgot about all that, and tried to figure out how both a cruise line AND a bank could use “Lust for Life” in their ads and gloss over the song’s original meaning. Days later I compiled a list of other products, companies, and services, all of which could benefit from songs about heroin and heroin use. Creative directors take note: these ideas are booby trapped. Contact my editor if you’d like to use them and we’ll work something out.
Elliot Smith “Needle in the Hay” for Bing Web Search Engine
Certain products, anything technology related really, can use nearly any song in the right context. In this instance you only need the chorus playing over a time-lapse shot of a computer screen as someone uses Bing to do research for a school paper. Maybe stick the ending with the last line about “getting good marks.”
Johnny Cash “Hurt” for Kaiser Permanente
The original Nine Inch Nails track would never work, but Cash’s iconic cover? Perfect to peddle health insurance, especially if you’re crafting the message that no one wants to use insurance but you’ll be glad you have it. This would be more of a long form piece, people coming in to the hospital, sad but stalwart middle aged women undergoing chemotherapy, children crying while getting vaccinated but then smiling afterward. Sure you’d have to judiciously cut around certain lyrics, but if you want millennials signing up ASAP, you’ve got to speak directly to them.
Red Hot Chili Peppers “Under the Bridge” for Southwest Airlines
More often than not use of music in a commercial is about using some aspect of that song to reinforce a narrative. It’s more effective if the audience has experienced something similar and can put themselves in the story. A tall order given most TV commercials are all of 30 seconds. And while not everyone can relate to being strung out under an LA overpass, lots of people have had a delayed flight. Picture a man walking down an airport terminal passing crying families missing out on vacation, stressed business travelers waylaid, honeymooners stuck at the gate. The man passes all of them, walks up to the attendant, is whisked aboard his direct flight which promptly embarks, all to the strains of “I don’t ever want to feel/like I did that day/take me to the place I love/take me all the way.” He’s made that mistake before, and now he’s on the right airline.
The La’s “There She Goes” for the 2014 Hyundai Genesis Coupe
I, for one, like the move towards sportier, flashier mid-price sedans, but it always looks as though Nissan, Mazda, and to a lesser extent VW have all been marketing heavily towards people who need a reliable, affordable vehicle in which they can pretend they’re a street racer. Hyundai is playing catch-up, and their Bentley-looking Genesis Coupe is the perfect tip of the spear. See one of those zipping around a closed set city which looks suspiciously like Toronto to the strains of The La’s (definitely not Sixpence None the Richer’s version) ending with a power slide into a parallel parking slot. Who gets out of the car? A woman in business pumps and a skirt walking into her office building. She’s competent and classy and having fun, and you could be her, if only you drove the same car.
The Stranglers “Golden Brown” for McDonald’s McNuggets and French Fries
A white, formless back drop. Round McNuggets rolling across an edgeless, blank table to the rhythm of the harpsichord. A smash cut to french fries from above being funneled on to the same surface, dancing and bouncing as they hit the table like plug stoppers on an old fashioned organ. Ignore the anachronistic quasi-Victorian sexual overtones. Go get a snack.
Spiritualized “Cop Shoot Cop” for Victoria’s Secret
Like tech, lingerie and perfume can use just about any song that evokes sexiness. VS once used a Bob Dylan song and had Dylan himself in the commercial, really all you have to do is to put scantily clad women on screen and not blast polka. (Actually, you can blast polka music in a lingerie commercial, but it’s a different kind of commercial entirely.) In this case I’m imagining the world’s most exclusive apartment building, old brick walls and fire escapes, the camera voyeuristic like in Rear Window. In every apartment an Amazon sans body fat getting ready for a date, fixing makeup for some reason prior to getting dressed, lounging around in front of a turned off TV, or inexplicably baking in an expensive bra and panty set. The commercial opens during the intro, but the edit now jumps directly to the guitar wash break down skipping over the borrowed “Sam Stone” lyrics as you the audience notice all the women have stopped what they’re doing and are smoldering, looking out their windows directly. Nothing sells women’s underwear like the male gaze.
James Taylor “Fire and Rain” for Skype/Facetime/Snapchat
This one rests on the last verse and chorus. The song, NOT about a dead girlfriend, would play as someone travels the world, looking over vistas at sunsets, marveling at monuments, interacting with interesting and culturally ambiguous others, only to wind up conversing with loved ones in a hotel room via a tablet computer. Wave hi to your parents/friends/wife and kids! You get to see the world, but you get to stay in touch and show them the slide show of your travels without first having to come home. “Thought I’d see you one more time again” indeed.
Goo Goo Dolls “Black Balloon” for Merrill Lynch
Hey, remember how carefree you were back in the late ’90s, graduating from high school? College, the tech bubble, your whole life was ahead of you. Well now you’re in your mid 30s and you’re a dumbass if you don’t have a retirement plan and maybe some life insurance. You’ve got kids – what if you drop dead? Someone has to protect them financially. We can make that happen. Let us ensure you don’t die like your great grandparents, cold and alone, or worse, that your kids suffer because of it. To assure you we know how your generation thinks, here’s a song which takes you right back to being carefree, because we’re going to do all the worrying for you now. It’s what you’re paying us an undetermined amount to do.
Rolling Stones “Dead Flowers” for Amazon Drone Delivery
While I prefer Townes Van Zant’s version, you need the up tempo original to add the lighthearted touch to other people getting broken, damaged packages from other delivery services. Meanwhile you get what you ordered in an hour from a mutant hornet looking device with no fuss. It even delivered an emergency bouquet of flowers to the wedding after the first was eaten by the scruffy mutt acting as ring bearer! You just have to edit around the sitting in the basement part, and any mention of roses on a grave.
Mike Doughty “Looking at the World From the Bottom of a Well” for Google Glass
Sure you don’t want to be too on the nose. No way is Boar’s Head going to use Lennon’s “Cold Turkey” in an ad, but tongue in cheek is another story. You’ve got to make the statement seeing things through Glass isn’t weird, instead it expands your experience as suddenly all the information and access is right there at all times, and you don’t have to bury your nose in your phone to use it. Just move “let’s get down to business now” after the titular “I feel like I’m looking at the world from the bottom of a well,” leave the guitar solo in at the end and you’re done, just like Mike Doughty was done with skag. OK, maybe sometimes tongue in cheek is on the nose.
*Feel free to argue in the comments about how “Perfect Day” isn’t really about drugs. Doesn’t matter. Given Reed’s songwriting past and the song’s inclusion on the Trainspotting soundtrack (the heroin equivalent of being on the Big Chill soundtrack) we all associate it with the nod.