The Petty Archives

Pop music becoming advertising gimmick
Lodi News-Sentinel - Thursday, May 7, 1987

NEW YORK (UPI) -- Does Ringo Starr's presence in a TV commercial make you want to drink wine cooler or pour it down the sink?

Nobody seems to mind when local jocks fumble their way woodenly through testimonials for automobiles or appliances, but the sight of pop stars doing the same thing sends a lot of people through the roof.

As rock 'n' roll becomes the official music of increasingly middle-aged baby boomers it's being more and more widely used as soundtrack music for commercials.

A current ad for Nike running shoes uses the Beatles' "Revolution" as its soundtrack. "Nike Air is not a shoe ... it's a revolution," the ad claims as the familiar strains of John Lennon's voice and guitar play in the background.

Phil Collins turns a song from his concert tour into a beer ad, telling viewers "tonight's the night for Michelob."

Kellogg's Nutra-Grain commercial claims the cereal is "dedicated to the ones we love."

Touring rock bands, even while being hounded by the latest round of anti-rock vocal vigilante groups, have turned increasingly to corporate sponsorship to help foot the cost of sponsoring a musical road show.

There's bucks in them there ads, but there's also a growing backlash from fans and musicians who think rock 'n' roll is being cheapened by taking it out of context this way.

Dave Marsh has waged an active campaign against corporate sponsorship and commercial endorsements by pop stars in his Rock 'n' Roll Confidential newsletter. Marsh has attacked Michael Jackson eloquently for allowing "Billy Jean" to be turned into a Pepsi commercial.

It's interesting to note that Bruce Springsteen, the subject of a current Marsh biography, is one of the most strident opponents of endorsements and sponsorship. "A star who wanted to say something serious," writes Marsh, "couldn't simultaneously present himself as a vehicle for flogging products or trumpeting the chimerical superiority of one brand over another."

Springsteen has turned down offers from Coca Cola and Chrysler for as much as $12 million. "We get approached by corporations," says Springsteen. "It's just not something that struck me as the thing that I wanted to do."

In the summer of 1985, at the height of "Born in the U.S.A." fever, Bill Jane of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency predicted a flood of "Springsteen heartland of America" commercials. Sure enough, the Safeway grocery chain, AM-PM convenience stores, the Stroh's and Miller beer all tried tp wrap themselves in Springsteen's flag.

When Springsteen refused to let Chrysler use "Born in the U.S.A.," they hired a jingle producer, Joan Neary, to come up with a take-off. She called the song "The Pride is Back" but the chorus was "Born in America." Wonder where that idea came from? "We knew from the start," admits Neary, "that Chrysler really wanted 'Born in the U.S.A.' So obviously we didn't want to go way in the opposite direction."

Part of the problem with advertising is that it seldom feels compelled to tell the truth. Springsteen's refusal to sell his song to Chrysler looked even better when it turned out the vans that were being advertised as "born in America" were actually being assembled in Canada.

Another rocker who's angry at the way music has been twisted for use in commercials is Tom Petty. Petty had to go to court recently to keep BF Goodrich from using one of his songs in an ad campaign. "They called me and asked me if they could use it in their tire ad," says Petty. "I told them no. I don't allow anyone to use my songs in commercials. I don't think they should be used that way.

"So then they turned around and did it anyway. They got a soundalike singer, changed it a little bit, but not really very much, and my friend saw it on TV. I asked nicely once to stop and of course they wouldn't so I had to get a temporary restraining order.

"I hate to see these Beatle songs selling sneakers and stuff. Because the music always meant more to me. I don't wanna think of 'Good Vibrations' as a Sun Kist soft drink commercial. I think it cheapens that value of the song."

Petty's argument against allowing his work to be used in advertisements ultimately comes down to a matter of artistic credibility. "How is someone supposed to take your next work seriously," he reasons, "when your last one was a beer commercial? This might be a record, or this might be a beer commercial, without changing any words or anything. How seriously am I supposed to take what you're doing?

"I hate it when I'm suckered into this thing and then the last line of the song they wanna sell me Q-Tips or something. I find that insulting. I'm not a jingle writer. That's not what I'm doing this for. I'm doing it because I love the music.

"There were ideals in that music from the '60s and '50s and I want to see those ideals remain intact."