The 6 Most Inappropriate Song Choices in Advertising
Choosing the right song for your commercial is a delicate process. You need to find one that gets the viewers' attention immediately, sets the proper mood, conveys the intended message, and convinces everyone that they need to buy your product immediately.
Or you could do what these companies did and just choose the first thing that pops up on your intern's iPod. That works, too.
Garnier Fructis Presents the Most Gangsta Shampoo Ever
Since not too many songs directly reference shampoo and "Hair" by the Cowsills has just been done to death, the fine folks at Garnier settled for a nice, catchy beat to accompany the traditional glamour shots of a model whipping passersby with her cruel but beautiful locks.
Proving that no job is too simple to screw up completely, the company went with "Diamonds and Guns" by the Transplants.
True to its title, the song is about the joys of gangster life:
Lookin' for the bitch who took the money and run
Now the daylight's gone and there's no more fun
And who's the fuckin' bitch who stole all the heroin?
Heroin, heroin, it's all gone
Smoked it all up, and now you got none
And then later:
I'm wiggin out, flippin' out, hearts is what I'm rippin' out
So wash your hair with Fructis, ladies! Or Garnier will rip your fucking heart out.
And your fucking hair out. Shoulda strengthened with Garnier.
You'd think the title alone would warn corporate away -- "Diamonds and Guns" doesn't exactly scream "refreshing hair cleanse." But we are all apparently drastically underestimating how hardcore the shampoo industry is. Not only did they stick with their choice for the above commercial, they kept it around for a few more.
Because that's the true secret to maintaining a shiny, voluminous head of hair: heroin and murder.
Royal Caribbean Cruises (and Hard Drugs) Give You a Lust for Life
Royal Caribbean wants you to experience the thrill of a lifetime, which is why their commercials are filled with gourmet food, surfing, zip lining, and implied middle-aged boning in pools of over-chlorinated water. Each one is set to the pounding, yet highly danceable beat of a beloved classic rock song from the good 'ol 1970s: Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life." You'll have a lust for life, too, if you get on a really big boat with these desperate strangers today!
"Lust for Life" is a song about how awesome drugs and alcohol are. There's no other way to explain lines like:
Here comes Johnny Yen again
With the liquor and drugs
And a flesh machine
He's gonna do another strip tease
The lyrics leave very little room for misinterpretation, and the ruined visage of Iggy Pop's deflated chest leaves even less. But Royal Caribbean managed it anyhow. As far as they're concerned, a lust for life doesn't come from destroying your family by constantly shooting up; it comes from disappointing your family by subjecting them to endless shuffleboard and horribly stale stand-up comedy.
And unlike many instances of clueless executives who don't bother to actually listen to the music their ads are using, Carnival absolutely has a clue. Jay Williams, the creative director of the agency responsible for the campaign, has straight up admitted that his company chose the song simply because they liked the beat. They decided, "Iggy wasn't someone were going to put out front." So they cherry picked the "lust for life" refrain, cut literally everything else, and hoped against hope that everybody watching the commercial would be too excited about jet skis to look up the rest of the lyrics.
"Hey man, where'd ya get that lotion?
Your skin starts itching once you buuuuy the gimmick ..."
But just in case anyone did listen, Williams had a counter prepared. He insists the song is actually anti-drug, and that the narrator's "lust for life" comes from his newfound sobriety. He is literally the only person who sees it that way, including the creator of the song. Although Iggy did say he enjoys the commercials and is fine with the usage, probably because he had a syringe full of "life" pumping through his veins at the time.
Janis Joplin Unwittingly Endorses Mercedes-Benz from the Grave
Mercedes-Benz ran an ad wherein an entire town sings part of Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz" in honor of a handsome Benzo doing the whole village the honor of driving through it. In one instance, a mother even coos it to her infant child. Aw! Never too early to teach that little fella to want things above his means.
"Mercedes Benz" wasn't about how great Mercedes-Benzes were -- it was about how wanting one was kind of a shitty thing to do.
Joplin had grown up in the '50s and '60s, and the era's constant "buy buy buy" attitude had deeply affected her outlook on life. So she wrote a song about how pointless and depressing it is to lust after stuff, because all it does is make us want more stuff. After all, not only does consumerism not satisfy your soul in any meaningful way, it also means less money for sweet, sweet booze and less time for sweet, sweet boning.
The song has two more verses, which, of course, the commercial doesn't touch, because Janis forgot to mention any obscenely expensive vehicles in them. In the second verse, she sings about how much she wants a color TV -- another useless extravagance to her eyes (hey, they hadn't invented video games yet, you can't blame her). In the third verse, Janis only wants "a night on the town." That was the point of the structure of the song: The narrator pines for progressively less impressive things, dropping from a pricey new car to just a few fleeting moments of distraction, because she knows they're all out of her reach, and probably won't make her any happier anyway.
But Mercedes-Benz saw all that and just thought "Hey, she mentioned us! Let's use it!"
Hewlett Packard Wants You to Take Pictures to Cure Your Suicidal Depression
The theme of this 2003 commercial for Hewlett Packard was "living in pictures." Naturally, HP wanted a photography-themed song to accompany their touching montage. You know, something upbeat and perky, with a positive message and a catchy melody. So they chose the Cure's "Pictures of You."
Hey, one out of four ain't bad.
The song, far from being an ode to "seeing photos everywhere you look," is about the inability to let go of the past, doing nothing but sitting around all day and staring wistfully at pictures of better times instead of, you know, living.
I've been looking so long at these pictures of you
That I almost believe that they're real
I've been living so long with my pictures of you
That I almost believe that the pictures are all I can feel.
Like two minutes after writing that verse, you know Robert Smith started cutting himself just to see if he could still feel pain. We would love to pop out of a time-traveling phone booth right at that moment and show young, heartbroken Smith this commercial, 20 years in the future, that uses his statement of anguish and ennui to hock digital cameras to happy families. He would probably discover an entirely new form of crying. We would stick around to make sure he didn't kill himself -- we're not monsters.
Plus, we'd want to help him name it. Something between "irony" and "anguish." Anguiny?
John Mellencamp Is Disappointed in America; America Does Not Realize This
Chevrolet trucks are all-American, and they want to make damn sure you know it. Here's a commercial laying it on pretty thick, with down-home American values preached alongside images of proud American archetypes. And all of it is set to the blue collar tunes of John Mellencamp, because that's the musician you get when you want to say "American values" and Springsteen is asking for too much money.
On the surface, "Our Country" is a catchy bit of radio fluff that mentions America, automatically making it audio apple pie. Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll hear a sad tale of a guy disappointed in his country as it continually fails to live up to its own ideals.
Mellencamp laments that bigotry and greed are still things, and declares that this country belongs to all of us, not just the mainstream white man. In his own words, Mellencamp says the song is a plea to end the "culture wars" and try to be more "inclusive." None of this mattered to the truck people, though, who just wanted something rife with bald eagles for their commercials. Mellencamp pleaded:
That poverty could be just another ugly thing
And bigotry would be seen only as obscene
And the ones that run this land help the poor and common man
Well there's room enough here for science to live
And there's room enough here for religion to forgive
And the photogenic white guys Chevy paid to haul hay in between downs on NFL Sunday -- the exact same guys he's nailing to the wall -- gave a collective shrug and posed in front of a broken fence at sunset.
Then again, we did have less poverty and bigotry back in cowboy days.
Then, a couple of years later, it happened again. John McCain used Mellencamp's 1983 hit "Pink Houses," a scathing putdown of all things Reaganomics, during his 2008 Republican presidential campaign. Mellencamp promptly reminded McCain that the lyric "Ain't that America, home of the free" was meant to be sarcastic, so he might want to reconsider his song choice, unless he wanted to look like some sort of out-of-touch rich white guy trying to capitalize on Americana for his own personal gain.
Kanye West Isn't for Sale, Unless Motorola Has a New Phone Coming Out
Recently, Motorola developed the amazing, mind-blowing, ground-breaking concept of customizing the colors of your phone. Clearly, a commercial was needed for such a ground-breaking leap forward in technology. For the score, Motorola hired Kanye West, who strangely had declared that he was "not for sale" on a Saturday Night Live performance.
It's one thing for Kanye West to hock cellphones -- the audience suffered ocular trauma from how hard they rolled their eyes at his "not for sale" announcement. It's quite another to use one of his angriest, most racially charged songs to do it.
"Black Skinhead," as one might surmise from the title, isn't exactly a cuddlefest full of nuzzlebunnies.
Middle America packed in, came to see me in my black skin
Number one question they asking, fuck every question you asking
If I don't get ran out by Catholics, here come some conservative Baptists
Claiming I'm overreacting like them black kids in Chiraq bitch
And all the while angry dogs snarled and snapped in the background, presumably representing the vicious media tearing Kanye apart for the sport of it. Or maybe they just represented a bunch of pissed-off dogs that somehow got into the studio. That's Kanye's secret to know.
The video offers no clues. Someone forgot to switch the lights on.
Obviously, Motorola chose to erase every single word Kanye sang, keeping only the badass opening riff. Also, they replaced the vicious dogs with an adorable puppy wearing a tracksuit and goofy novelty glasses. (Aw, look -- he thinks he's Kanye!) The whole thing is like a systematic, extremely patronizing takedown of Kanye's righteous fury. "Listen to the little dog bark! He's so cute! We'll call him Mr. Muzzlepouch and put a wittle hat on him for his birthday!"
Although maybe there was a point to it all. Maybe this is it. Maybe this is the moment where Kanye realizes the dangers of consumerism mixing with art and decides to take his craft in a new direction.
A counterpoint: Kanye West's $120 plain white T-shirt, still on sale.
Amanda makes a lot of inappropriate choices on her Twitter and blog. Evan V. Symon is a moderator in the Cracked Workshop. When he isn't trying to find a commercial that uses the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" as a song choice, you can find him on Facebook. Be sure to bookshelf and vote for his new book, The End of the Line.
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Related Reading: Speaking of inappropriate song choices, here's GE threatening to steal your soul. And have you ever wanted to hear a brain damaged Bon Jovi cover the Beatles? We've got you covered. And while we're at it, here's some songs you didn't know were about rape.