Music

Getting the Word Out: Discovering Music Through Advertisements

Michael P. Irwin

The television and radio commercials that we see every day are selling more than just the products in the ad -- sometimes they're selling an artist as well. It may not be the traditional way for musicians to get their songs to their listeners, but it works.

Countless sums of money are spent worldwide every year on advertising, constantly bombarding us everywhere we go. Whether it is on television, radio, in print, or online, every day we see ads that encourage us to buy one product or another. I do have to admit that every so often the pitch works, and I find myself spending money on something that I don’t really need, but that I do really want. I’m not talking about buying any of the products, though -- I’m talking about buying the music that I’ve heard used in the commercials. Whether it’s a current hit or an old classic, advertisers have been using pop music in commercials for decades, and have been doing so more and more in recent years.

One such instance that will forever stick in my head was the use of Van Halen’s “Right Now” in the ad campaign for Crystal Pepsi in the early 1990s. In fact, the commercial was even shot in a similar style to the music video, complete with the "Right now..." statements:

I really wasn’t a fan of Crystal Pepsi (or of Sammy Hagar-era Van Halen), but the two will be forever intertwined in my mind. Crystal Pepsi disappeared from the shelves in 1993, and I didn’t even get the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge album until a few months ago. However, there have been a few instances since then when hearing a song in a commercial has made me say to myself, “I need to find out who that band is and get their album immediately”.

The first time that this happened, it was after repeatedly seeing ads for Guitar Hero II when it was released a few years ago. Every time that commercial came on I was glued to the television, listening to a song that sounded so much like 1970s hard rock that the first few times I heard it I was absolutely convinced that I was hearing some long-lost Led Zeppelin recording:

I later found out that the song in question was “Woman” by Wolfmother (from the group's self-titled 2005 debut album), and after listening to a handful of songs online I decided to purchase and download the album. Activision may not have sold a copy of its game that day, but the commercial definitely sold me on Wolfmother’s music.

Last fall, the advertisers got me yet again. In November I started seeing commercials for the Electronic Arts’ first-person-shooter game Left 4 Dead 2. I absolutely love zombies, zombie movies, and watching zombies get dismembered via any possible method, so it’s not surprising that I decided not to fast forward past those commercials and to watch them in full every time. However, what really kept me interested was -- once again -- the song used in the commercial:

After seeing the ad a few times I was utterly determined to find out the name of the song and the band, and spent close to an hour running random search strings through Google until finally learning that the song was “Electric Worry” from Clutch’s 2007 album From Beale Street to Oblivion. A few clicks later of the mouse later, the album was downloaded and added to my music library (Advertisers, 2/Me, 0…).

About a week ago, it happened again. It seems as though there is at least one car ad during each commercial break, and not being a car owner myself I rarely if ever pay any attention to them. However, the new ad running for the Kia Soul drew me right in, and it wasn’t just because of the animated hamsters; instead, it was the hip-hop song that the hamsters were dancing along to:

At one point during the commercial, the cameras focus in on a digital music player and one can make out the cover of Black Sheep’s 1991 album A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, and after a little searching I found that the song in question was “The Choice Is Yours”. Once again, I was hooked, and was soon the owner of another album that I’d otherwise likely have overlooked.

So, that’s at least three albums that I’ve bought over the last few years directly as a result of hearing the music used in advertising. I still do not own a car or music video or zombie-killing game (or even a gaming console, for that matter) but the commercials have served their purpose and helped keep this consumer spending. While most artists would probably prefer that their music be discovered by fans through other more “traditional” channels such as radio, television -- or today’s catch-all, the internet -- the power that the advertising industry has in helping to create popularity and increase an artist’s fan base can’t be overlooked.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image