Sunday, March 23, 2008

Soundtrack Of Your Life or Sell Out?

TV advertisers have often used music to convey a mood or an emotion. To spark a reaction in you.

Over the last decade or two the use of pre-existing classical, pop or rock music has filtered into the advertising industry. Think of United Airlines with their signature use of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” or the foray that Pepsi made years ago in using Michael Jackson and his music to sell soft drinks to young boys, I mean, to the masses.

But over the last five or six years the advertising industry has really changed its tune. It is like the soundtrack of my youth coming from the little speakers on the TV with the use of rock, pop and more obscure alternative music.

It reminds me of when I first saw Grosse Point Blank starring John Cusack. Cusack is my contemporary. And the choices that he made for the music in the film reflect that, from Pete Townshend to The Jam to The Clash to Violent Femmes to The Specials to The English Beat. It was clear that the creative decisions being made for that part of the movie were being made by an almost 30-something who came of age in the 80’s.

Those same creative decisions in the major advertising agencies must also now be being made by my generation. This morning alone, while watching NCAA Basketball on CBS, I saw two commercials that use MY music.

The first was for TIAA-CREF. Now TIAA-CREF is the retirement/investment arm of educators, a segment of the population that probably stretches from 25 years to 65 years in age. They chose Bob Mould’s “See A Little Light” for the advert. Now, this song, depending on the week or month, would be on my short list of favorite songs ever. It is that good.

The second was Taco Bell (which I have not had ANY of in almost four months. Yay for me!) Which used, appropriately enough, Modern English’s “I Melt With You” to sell something extremely cheesy.

In other commercials Nissan has used The Clash’s version of “Pressure Drop” (an awesome song, reggae or punk version both) or several stylings from The Who to sell their various SUVs. The Buzzcocks’ “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” is being used for AARP. That’s an ad for the retirement generation, folks. “Blister In The Sun” by Violent Femmes was featured in a Wendy’s commercial.

More contemporary, and relevant to Portland, is the use by JC Penney and Old Navy of a few songs by The Weepies in their recent Christmas campaigns. The Weepies are the current musical group of former Portlander Deb Talan, who led the awesome and fun group Hummingfish for most of her time in Portland.

It’s easy to label these artists as sell-outs for allowing their music to be used commercially. Especially Pete Townshend who mocked the idea back in the 60’s with The Who Sell Out. But, with a music industry that is struggling to figure out how to deal with download v. CD v. the resurgence of vinyl, home publishing, youtube, myspace, it’s not surprising that artists are less apprehensive to lend their music to the mass advertising. It’s exposure. It’s money. Where’s the harm?

But, it’s clear to me that even if I am not the target audience for some of these products or services that the ones making the decisions grew up as I did; watching John Hughes movies and MTV, listening to college radio and discovering the great, obscure music that the 80’s and beyond had to offer.

I think that’s cool.



Anonymous said...

I think it's cool too. Imagine my surprise to hear a Brian Jonestown Massacre tune being used in a Target ad. It made me stop and consider things for a moment, then I came to the conclusion that it was good for them. More power to anyone who is able to make a living off of their art. Integrity is in the creating of the art, what happens after that is about money.

Anonymous said...

I have so much less respect for The Who this week - complete sell outs. My Generation is an anthem of the people. Yes, they wrote it and deserve the credit and the money, but the song also took on a life of it's own. It has absolutely nothing to do with Pepsi. Pete and Roger have untold millions and continue to rake it in with a tired touring act that really shouldn't even be called The Who. Did they really need that extra 10 million?
Yes, Brian Jonestown Massacre for Target makes sense. They could use the money, and it's all a joke and a put on anyway.
Shame on you Pete and Roger.