Emily Gallagher returns with Part Two of her multi-part examination of advertising and the music industry. Be sure to check out Part One, which gave an overview of how and why advertisers are interested in popular music. And on we go… -Steve
This post has been updated! Please see below.
Certainly there are musicians who loathe the idea of advertisers using their songs, but there are so many who can’t wait to strike a deal. Pop music in commercials has become ubiquitous because musicians are accepting the offers, often enthusiastically.
Which unapologetic music hocker comes to mind first? The British Tantra master, Sting. I’ve tried to figure out just why Sting is so willing to sell his music to major corporations like Jaguar, and my hypothesis is that it is a midlife, career-in-twilight crisis. In 1999 the commercial pop musician (pun intended) created a dual purpose music video/Jaguar commercial (refresh your memory?), evidently hoping for a promise of exposure to a younger Jaguar-lusting audience, or reminding an older jaguar-owning audience that he’s still productive …and of course, the temptation of a fistful of dollars. On the other end, Jaquar purloins the cultural capital previously or currently produced by a recording artist (for example, The Police) to align their product with something culturally significant. In other words: motivated by greed from both sides.
It’s not just the usual sell-outs like Michael Jackson and his sappy “I’ll Be There” ad or rewriting lyrics to become jingles, or Celine Dion and her Chrysler ads who give it up to advertisers– the extent that peripherally significant “indie” and “punk” artists choose commercial co-option may be surprising. Wilco dismissed their car commercial by claiming that their image was similar to that of everyone’s favorite soft-spoken, long-haired, perpetually heartbroken car, the Volkswagen. John Schacht reveals in his article “You Say You Want a ….Car?” that pre-deathbed Joe Strummer dismissed the commercial appearance of the overtly anti-corporate “London Calling,” by saying he needed to make up from the deficit of selling cheap albums, a generosity that I’m certain he suffered deeply for. And again, many so-called “Indie” musicians (Badly Drawn Boy for Target, Apples in Stereo for New Balance, et al) are trying to uncreatively counteract their lack of exposure from radio and MTV by providing soundbeds for commercial spots. To the seemingly forgotten underground musician, ads seem to be a better way of reaching an audience. However, it’s the product advertised that becomes cemented in memory, and not the artist, otherwise it wouldn’t work as an ad. On the other hand… if you want to forever be “that fun music in the background of that cute station wagon commercial” I guess you’ve finally made it! Suddenly, I’m gaining a lot of respect for those who kept their socially conscious day-jobs and play shitty emo music at my neighborhood bar’s dumb open mics.
Unfortunately, it does seem that some truly independent artists actually DO need the money provided by a momentary advertising fix. Perhaps the most heartbreaking is the use of the Minutemen song “Love Dance” in a Volvo commercial to pay for D. Boon’s dad’s medical bills. For a band that spent their entire career driving around (and dying) in a shit van wearing dumpster clothes, I guess they’re allowed. The legacy of the Minutemen is an ephemeral one, based on ideas, activity, and the music, not being hot or rich. Are these values co-opted when immediate monetary help was necessary? I don’t know. Supposedly Liz Phair used all her sell-out album money, loaded with PlayStation references, to pay off her divorce. But she also lost a lot of her audience, at least as far as I’m concerned, so perhaps her monetary cash-out was an unsustainable faux-pas.
A new trend, more bone-chilling than the previously mentioned, is beginning to rear it’s brain-eating head. Now performers (I refuse to use the word artist) have not only donated their images and (questionable) talents to ad-men, but do it overtly, through explicit advertising deals. It’s no longer a completed song that’s purloined, but the promise of future songs, the way the naïve maiden promised her first-born child to Rumplestiltskin. These companies ask for visible presence in lyrics and videos, and gain editorial access to the work. The latest and sleaziest is Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas who has “teamed up” with Candies, the shoe and clothing line popular with young girls, on an entire album to be stuffed with advertisements for their product. This won’t be a jingle compilation, but a seamlessly disguised ad-creep album, with songs ready for preteen sleepover sing-a-longs. And if you think the album will disappear into obscurity (which it may eventually) you should know at the time of this writing her song, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is number one the charts. Yikes. While the lyrics are seemingly benign and all about confidence building, the message becomes confidence = Candies, and the video features Candies products exclusively. Candies is featured throughout the entire album. At the Candies website, you can watch a “pop-up video” that specifies the exact name of every product shown in the video and order it on an adjacent page. Finally, a music video and catalog combined! Music videos have nearly always been a commercial for an artist’s album, and Fergie’s sharing her commercial with Candies. Admittedly, it’s not as if Fergie’s name is making any “Most Important Artists of the Century” lists, but allowing one’s songwriting and all the messages within it to be co-opted by a clothing company is detrimental to the young consumers who look up to her and emulate her (poor souls!)
In a similar attempt a few years back, McDonalds invited popular hip-hop artists to include references to Big Macs in their songs, and promised to reward them $5 every time a song mentioning Big Macs gets radio airplay. Additionally, McDonald’s held veto power over appropriate lyrics for the rest of the song. The deal was outed by Advertising Age, and Mickey D’s got major flack. But we all know it’s not just McDonald’s; not every deal can be outed by that old consumer watchdog, Advertising Age.
How do you think Courvoisier became the drink of choice for those other than 75 year old, top hat wearing gentlemen? It was the work of Russell Simmons and a Courvoisier representative, performed by a P. Diddy Puppet. Certainly hip-hop has been known to name drop, but how much of the “bling boasting” is backed by undetected Def Jam contracts? To demonstrate just how much name-dropping and product placement exists in pop-rap music, check out Evan Roth’s Hip Hop Popup (warning: it might crash your browser.)
Excessive product placements in popular music encourages people to focus on conspicuous consumerism, equating material goods with success, instead of putting their hard work and money towards more enduring pursuits. I know because I am a young person surrounded by gadget-lusting friends, I live in flashy New York City, and on top of everything else, it’s Fashion Week. The misleading value system, reinforced by product placement, leads only to perpetual dissatisfaction.
(Cue the Rolling Stones — did you ever notice that song is about advertising?!)
In my next little rant, I’ll try to uplift your now-crushed spirits with tales of die-hard anti-ad musicians, and the long battles they willingly endure in the name of artistic integrity.
A friend recently provided me with this link to idolator:
After several moments spent pondering, I’ve decided on several points.
1. . Fergie is clearly in a relationship with Candies Co., given that she appears in many of their ads and on their website. Long story short, Fergie does work for Candies. It’s kind of like sleeping with someone regularly, spending all your time with them, and he or she buys you dinner and talk to your mom on the phone, but when a stranger asks you about your relationship, you say that you’re “just friends”. Fergie’s inclusion of Candies, specifically, in her videos and some lyrics does have a relationship to a working agreement, regardless of whether or not the agreement specifically entailed musical shout-outs.
2. If Candies did not pay Fergie specifically to name or include their products in her songs, and she did anyway, let’s face it, that’s weird. It’s not as if Candies makes some really rare object, like faberge eggs, that can only be identified by their brand. They make pretty typical clothes. If I was going to talk about my sneakers, I wouldn’t say “My Vans blah blah blah” (ooh, Vans can pay me later!) I would just say, “my sneakers. Are our brains so grated by branding that it matters? Is Fergie working with Candies because she LOOOOVES their brand? Brand loyalty, according to recent studies, is a Thing Of The Past. So if Fergie is just intensely loyal to Candies for reasons other than paycheck$, she better start getting ready to cruise back in time with Doc and Marty, as far as I’m concerned. And if she’s not getting paid, that means to Fergie, self-confidence might ACTUALLY MEAN Candies, and for a 32 year old woman, that’s really very heartbreaking.
3. The UK Daily News is pretty reputable, right?