#3. Walmart Honors Hard Work With a Song About How Much Work Sucks
Earlier this year, Walmart decided to honor the American factory worker because their store employees apparently don't deserve it. They did so with overly romanticized footage of Americans working hard despite somehow never sweating or dirtying up even a stitch of their clothing:
The song seems pretty straightforward for the ad -- hell, the lyrics are practically narrating it, a dude talking about workin' hard over the sound of a guitar riff that makes you want to strap on a hardhat.
They chose Rush's "Working Man" as the soundtrack for their ode to factories made entirely out of gusto and apple pie. We could point out that they are celebrating "Made in America" with a song from a Canadian band, but that's not really the issue here:
The problem is that Rush wasn't exactly penning a tribute to the awesomeness of getting yelled at by your boss every day for not properly cleaning the assembly line. In fact, the song, told from the point of view of some sad sack worker drone, makes it perfectly clear how terrible that life is:
I get up at seven, yeah
And I go to work at nine
I got no time for livin'
Yes, I'm workin' all the time
It seems to me I could live my life
A lot better than I think I am
I guess that's why they call me
They call me the working man
Here we have a regular Joe or Jane who wishes nothing more than to tell their boring, underpaid, utterly insignificant job to go screw itself, but who also realizes that underpaid is better than unpaid, so might as well go through the motions until retirement or death, whichever comes first. This song couldn't be any more depressing if they released a video where the singer cuts himself halfway through.
Or, worse, becomes a greeter.
Also, those lyrics we quoted? Walmart used them in the commercial. They didn't just use "they call me the working man" out of context, they kept the context. This means that they heard the lyrics, realized it described virtually everybody on their payroll, and kept it anyway. Naturally, they defended the song as one that "reflects our commitment to help create more jobs for working men and women in U.S. manufacturing and to help get more American working men and women back to work." There is no way whoever typed that wasn't pantomiming a good wank under the desk while doing so.
#2. Geico Sells Motorcycle Insurance With a Song by Guys Killed by Motorcycles
The ever-creative ad folks at Geico decided to sell motorcycle insurance with a man literally made of money cruising on his bike, dollar bills flying all over the place (which is actually pretty disgusting once you realize that's his skin):
Geico went with "Midnight Rider" by the Allman Brothers. In this case, the song itself is perfectly fine -- a motorcycle commercial with a motorcycle song playing in the background. It's what happened to the people who played that song that makes us wonder how high the gecko was when scripting this thing:
You see, two founding members of the band, Berry Oakley and Duane Allman, were killed in separate motorcycle accidents a year apart from one another, at almost exactly the same spot. Not only is that tragic and eerie as shit, it casts a darkly ironic pall over a light and silly 30-second spot that wasn't supposed to piss off anybody but so, so did.
"Countering the mockery of death by threatening suicide is how protest works, right?"
It also renders their product kind of useless. After all, you need motorcycle insurance only if something happens to your hog and you survive. But by using "Midnight Rider," they're subliminally telling people, "don't bother. If you crash this thing, you're cooked. In fact, just buy our life insurance instead, so your poor family doesn't wind up on the streets because burying your ass depleted their life savings of every last silver dollar."
#1. A Company Sells Beer With a Song About Shooting Kids
This slightly surreal ad by Australian beer company Castlemaine Perkins depicts the sun as a magical brewer of delicious ale. A couple of bros hang empty bottles on trees and, after an evening of bro-ing around, return to find them miraculously filled with booze. We're not sure if this convinced anybody to drink Castlemaine beer, but it's still refreshing to find something Australian that isn't a cold, vicious killer:
And what better song to play over it than the lovable, bouncy "Pumped Up Kicks" from Foster the People? The damned thing is so cheery, there's no reason whatsoever to, say, read the lyrics before slapping that shit right on your beer ad.
"Pumped Up Kicks" is a song about grabbing a gun and massacring everybody at your goddamn school:
It's easy to miss the song's point initially, since it sure sounds like a jaunty, joyful rump-shaker, complete with happy whistling in place of a solo. But take a few seconds to focus on the words, and the dance party ends immediately:
Yeah, he found a six shooter gun
In his dad's closet hidden with a box of fun things
I don't even know what
But he's coming for you
Yeah, he's coming for you
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks
You better run, better run, outrun my gun
All the other kids with the pumped up kicks
You better run, better run, faster than my bullet
Yep, the singer wants to kill everybody, presumably because their shoes are cooler than his. The commercial omits just about every line of the song, since they're all dark and terrifying, keeping only "All the other kids with the pumped up kicks, you better ..." Better what? Better drink more delicious tree beer, that's what!
Maybe if more trees offered useful shit like booze, we wouldn't chop them down so much.
Castlemaine, to their credit, didn't feign ignorance over the song's message. To their detriment, they defended themselves with the ever-popular "we just like the music" angle. As far as they're concerned, it's perfectly acceptable to combine alcohol and guns as long as you ignore the guns.
Special thanks to David Bell for helping out with entries for this article.
Related Reading: Some ad campaigns were actually bad enough to hurt sales, like the Taco Bell chihuahua. If that actually gives you a little added faith in humanity, well- these ads will kill all of that. And if you weren't aware that some of the most well-known ads in history are filled with hidden messages, this contest will help you pick them out.