Don’t use my favourite songs for your ads – Just don’t!August 26, 2010
I was sitting at my mac the other evening writing something for this blog, when I heard a familiar song on the TV. I turned around, expecting to see the video of They Might Be Giant’s Birdhouse In Your Soul, which always makes me smile. Instead, the vision that accompanied my song was an advert – for children’s shoes. NOOOOOOOO! I nearly catapulted myself to casualty, tripping on the rug while running as fast as I could to turn the sound down. After many years of pleasure gained from this wonderfully quirky song, I was not going to have it associated with a TV advert, for crying out loud. This is the second time I’ve found myself wringing my hands at the mangling of my favourite songs recently. A lovely little pop song called Young Folk by Peter, Bjorn and John (the Beyond The Wizard’s Sleeve mix is particularly good) has been used for a poxy DIY store ad. A D-I-Y store. What’s that about, eh? Nay, nay, and thrice nay, as Frankie Howerd would say.
Why do they do this, these ad people? Why plunder the back catalogue of our favourite songs to sell their tat? Expensive tat in some instances, granted, but tat nevertheless. What happened to the skill of the jingle writer? And I don’t mean this:
Ten people can hear the same song and have very different experiences because of the place where they first heard it, the videos they’d created in their heads where that song became the backdrop (or maybe that’s just me), and the comfort it brought to them in hard times. Once that song has been used in an advert, everyone has the same image planted in their head, and most of it is not that good. It’s just plain wrong.
Pop music is not the only genre where memories attached to a song are overwritten by irritating ads like an old cassette. Classical music has been used in adverts for as long as God’s been a boy. Aficionados of this type of music must weep every time they hear yet another snippet of their favourite movement, tacked onto an advert. They know where those snippets are from and the context in which it appears, but the rest of us don’t, so O Fortuna from Carmina Burana becomes the Old Spice ad and The Flower Duet from the Opera Lakmé becomes the British Airways ad. I remember when Nessun Dorma, sung by Luciano Pavarotti, became a huge hit when it was used as the theme song for Italia 90. I was moved like many people at that time. Did it make me want to find out more about the opera it came from and spark a passion for classical music as a result? Did it heck!
There’s another species in the TV advert musicquarium*. I’m going to call this creature bit sample. This is where you hear new music in an advert and a single is released on the back of it, depending on popularity. The full single is rarely as good as the bit sampled on the ad. This method was used extensively in the 90s before the ad men finally ran out of ideas. Levis jeans did it brilliantly. I give you two examples: one ad used a really weird track with speeded up vocals called Spaceman by Babylon Zoo.
We were excited. We bought the track. Cue disappointment when we found out the speeded up vocals topped and tailed a miserable dirge in the middle.
On the other hand, the music used on another Levis advert, Underwater Love by Smoke City was really good.
So have we run out of musical ideas so soon into the 21st century? Will all our favourite songs and the memories that go with it, plummet to the ground like a pigeon shot by the unimaginative gun of advertisers? I’ll say it again and I’ll say it now. Leave the songs alone, son. Just leave it.
*Original Musicquarium is an album by Stevie Wonder. It’s very good, but doesn’t even touch the sides of Songs In The Key Of Life.