The 6 Most Disturbing Song Choices by Huge Ad Campaigns
There's a reason companies pay huge money to stick famous songs into their TV ads -- half the time, the song is the only thing that makes the commercial memorable. So you would think advertisers would be extra picky come time for music selection, since the whole point is to get their product to absorb some of the cool factor of the song by some kind of cultural osmosis.
Yet, as we've shown before, some marketers are content to slap any old catchy riff into their ads, regardless of the incredibly awkward context that the lyrics might create ...
Apple Sells the New iPhone With a Song About Huge Penises
According to Apple, if you purchase the new iPhone 5s, you've basically purchased Utopia. To hammer that point home, they've saturated the market with a commercial hyping all the amazing things you can do with their phone: conduct orchestras, launch rockets, translate shady-looking road signs, and possibly make a stupid phone call if you must.
Their kick-ass song of choice is The Pixies' "Gigantic." You know what's gigantic (besides your phone bill if you don't read the fine print)? A black man's penis, according to the song:
Yep, no amount of taking the chorus out of context (Gigantic, gigantic, gigantic / A big, big love) helps in this case. The verses make it 100 percent clear that the band has a thing for big, black cock:
Lovely legs they are
What a big black mess
What a hunk of love
Walk her every day into a shady place
He's like the dark, but I'd want him
If inadvertently reminding us that you can access porn on your iPhone wasn't enough awkwardness for one day, Apple included this young lady among the gaggle of photogenic musicians using their phone to rock out to '80s grunge:
Why, yes, that is an 8-year-old girl some ad agency has now permanently attached to an ode to hard schlong. And considering how Apple re-recorded the song to make it sound less raw (and added a celebratory horn break to boot), they had to have heard the lyrics and figured out what they entailed. Besides, the band itself has all but confirmed the message, citing the movie Crimes of the Heart as inspiration. A major plot point in Crimes? Sissy Spacek bones a black teenager.
And suddenly, a rocket is no longer just a rocket.
Jack Daniel's Uses Heroin Addiction to Sell Alcohol Addiction
As far as commercials for hard liquor go, this one by Jack Daniel's seems pretty harmless. It's simply a montage of people doing fun shit with bottles of Jack scattered all over the place. Whether in a swank hotel lounge or some sketchy-as-fuck watering hole you wouldn't enter without a SWAT team backup, mash whiskey is there for you.
The soundtrack is a late-'80s rock song, and what the hell else would you expect from a Jack Daniel's ad?
Instead of a party song or an old-timey drinking song, Jack Daniel's chose to sell their shit to the tune of Jane's Addiction's "Jane Says" ...
... a light and cheery bit of sunshine detailing the woes of a heroin addict (a real-life woman named Jane) caught in an abusive, codependent relationship with her boyfriend/drug dealer.
"Not every girl is lucky enough to get immortalized in song as the ultimate junkie loser."
It, as you might have gathered, is not a love ballad:
Jane says, "I'm done with Sergio
He treats me like a ragdoll"
She hides the television
Says, "I don't owe him nothing,
But if he comes back again
Tell him to wait right here for me
Or just try again tomorrow
I'm gonna kick tomorrow."
Poor Jane has to wear a wig due to hair loss, barely eats, constantly talks about saving money for a trip to Spain but never does, and is generally an absolute mess of a human. Jack Daniel's took that life and used it to hawk an addictive product that could easily mess up other people's lives. But hey, dig that funky steel drum!
Tales of hopelessness and total despair you can shake your tail feather to.
Naturally, Jack Daniel's played dumb, as companies are wont to do. Their official stance: "We weren't aware that this song allegedly deals with drugs." Why, were the lyrics translated into Urdu on their copy? Did they think "I'm gonna kick tomorrow" meant Jane wanted to play soccer in the morning? For fuck's sake, the band's name is JANE'S ADDICTION. The song couldn't have been more obvious if they called it "Woman Doing Drugs."
Volkswagen Celebrates Their New Car and a Famous Pedophile
In 1995, Volkswagen wanted to market their new line of hatchbacks by presenting them as 4,000 pounds of freedom. Without their cars, the ad argued, humanity traps itself in a bubble of homebodied sterility, with 500 channels and Windows 95 sheltering us from the joy of zooming around the great outdoors.
Sure enough, the whole thing plays over a rockin' song about freedom (presumably, since all we hear is the singer shouting the word "free" several times). What the hell could be offensive about freedom?
The song you hear is "Roman P" by the band Psychic TV, featuring the catchy-as-fuck chorus of "Are you free? Are you really free? Are you really, really, really, really free?"
Just one problem: "Roman P" is Roman Polanski, the song being about the famous filmmaker and how he infamously raped a child and got away with it. He's certainly really, really, really, really free, but only because he fled to France in the '70s and has hid from justice ever since. "And you, too, can flee from justice ... in a Volkswagen!"
As long as it isn't the one these kids are in.
The song isn't exactly a scathing attack, either. In fact, one verse all but praises his extremely questionable life choices:
Life of money, life of sex
Life of money, life of hex
Little girls drinking and eating of cake
Little girls gorge you, your greatest mistake
Damn those little girls and their sexy-ass gorging! As if this wasn't bad enough, the song then pays "tribute" to Sharon Tate, Polanski's ex-wife who died horribly at the hands of the Manson Family:
Sharon walks alone as your wife
Sharon gives her life for a knife
Sharon floating high up above
Sighing, crying, dying below
Clearly, nothing says "break free from the mundane and embrace life" like child rape and ritualistic murder.
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.
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."
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.