Column 101: Commercial Considerations…

Category: Blog — @ 11:30 am November 20, 2006

Still catching up with last week, here’s Column 101. Since writing this, I noticed Of Montreal also has allowed Nasdaq to use “Every Day Feels Like Sunday” in its latest commercial, albeit without changing the lyrics. And I’ve also downloaded the song used in the new Liberty Mutual commercial, “Half Acre” from Hem’s 2001 Bar/None debut Rabbit Songs — gorgeous. Also, “Punk Rocker” by Teddybear featuring Iggy Pop, used in the new Cadillac ads. Very cool.

Column 101 — And Now a Song from our Sponsor
Commercials go indie…

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I dig watching sports on TV. Football, baseball, basketball, you name it. I know it isn’t cool from an indie perspective to admit to such a steak-and-egger sort of past-time, but at any given moment during the season I generally know where the Yankees stand in the AL, and I cry right along with everyone else in the Big Apple when the Knicks inevitably skid to the bottom of the Eastern Division (Damn you, Isiah!).

The problem with watching televised sports, however, is having to put up with all the commercials, and Sunday Night Football is easily the worst. Why? Because during every time-out, you’re force-fed John Mellencamp’s ode to America in the form of a Chevy truck commercial. Once upon a time, Little Johnny Cougar wrote real songs — stuff like “Jack and Diane,” and “Pink Houses.” Not anymore.

Artists whoring their music to Madison Avenue is nothing new. Even such upstanding, well-respected musicians as U2 have gleefully traded in their flesh-and-blood to sell a few iPods. If Reverend Bono does it, it must be okay, right? Certainly it’s a no-brainer for someone like Mellencamp, whose flat-lined career was in the same place as Bob Seger’s when Seger let Chevy turn “Like a Rock” into a commercial.

But these days, it isn’t just the county fair circuit that’s grabbing the cash. Earlier this year I heard Spoon’s “I Turn My Camera On” used to sell Jaguar XKE’s. And it wasn’t just incidental background music — the commercial was produced like a rock video prominently featuring the song along with tight, quick cuts of a shiny new Jag. When they replayed the spot about five minutes later, I immediately thought, ‘Well, there goes that song.”

Then last night the whoring reached a new low. On screen was a commercial for Outback Steakhouse. Amidst the weird buzzing didgeridoo noise was the melody from Of Montreal’s “Wraith Pinned to the Mist (And Other Games).” But instead of Kevin Barnes singing “Let’s pretend we don’t exist / Let’s pretend we’re in Antarctica,” some poor schmuck sang “Let’s go Outback tonight / Life will still be there tomorrow” while animated cave drawings danced gleefully around a steak.

My first thought: “Those idiots! Don’t they know that Barnes will sue their asses off when he finds out that they so blatantly ripped off his song?” Then I went online and found out that Barnes was in on the whole thing. Pitchfork reported that Barnes had given Outback’s ad agency permission not only to use the song, but to rerecord it with new lyrics.

“We thought it would be totally amusing to hear their take on one of our songs as a jingle,” he told Pitchfork. In this case, “totally amusing” means receiving a check worth a few thousand bloomin’ onions.

Can you blame them for selling out their music? Fact is, in the case of both Of Montreal and Spoon, more people heard those songs on those commercials than will ever hear them on the radio. What price can you put on that kind of exposure?

When you live in a town like Omaha — a city with no real college radio station — TV commercials may be the only way to hear new music over the airwaves. And I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t admit that I’ve searched out a song used in an ad.

Case in point: The latest commercials for Geico featuring that loveable caveman that gets no respect. He first appeared on TV having lunch with a high-powered ad exec who apologized for the insensitivity of the company’s “so easy a caveman can do it” commercials. “I didn’t know you guys were still around.” Caveman’s response: “Maybe you should do some research.” Classic.

In the new ad, our caveman (Who I’m sure is now headed for a sitcom career) stands on a moving walkway headed toward his departure gate in an airport when he passes yet another insensitive Geico airport display ad with the same catchphrase. Meanwhile, in the background plays a cool, simple, Casio-powered song that is, quite frankly, absolutely infectious.

Two seconds after entering “Geico Caveman Commercial” in Google, I discovered the song was “Remind Me” by Norwegian Euro-dance duo Röyksopp — an act I’d never heard of, and likely wouldn’t have without this commercial. Like Trio’s “Da Da Da” song — which went unnoticed for 15 years until it was used in VW commercials in the mid-’90s — “Remind Me” also is destined to become an international smash that never would have been discovered if not for some savvy ad exec picking the song out of the ether and placing it in the commercial.

Like it or not, the same can probably be said for the new Mellencamp song. Without its Chevy connection, it never would have made it out of the blocks. Now it’s fueling his next world tour.

–Got comments? Post ’em here.

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