NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Five for Fighting's John Ondrasik has seen his songs take many forms, including post-9/11 anthem (2001's "Superman [It's Not Easy]") and life-spanning ad for Chase Bank (2004's "100 Years.") But it's his 2006 single "World" that has had no less than three cultural permutations since its modest release as a single, one that failed to even chart on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, no less.
The History Channel was the first to use "World" for marketing purposes, adopting the track as its personal theme song for a series of branding spots in 2007 that made use of the line, "history starts now." That same year, Mr. Ondrasik used another line from the song to start What Kind of World Do You Want, a charitable-donation site that has raised more than $270,000 for charities such as Augie's Quest, Autism Speaks, Fisher House Foundation, Save the Children and Operation Homefront.
Most recently, "World" can be heard in Sears' philanthropy-themed holiday campaign, dubbed "Grant a Wish," which teamed up with Five for Fighting to raise money for the Homefront Alliance Charity. As with any of Five For Fighting's heartfelt songs, the campaign was not for all musical tastes, including Ad Age's own Songs for Soap.
For Sears, the song was the perfect missing link to help connect the company's charity efforts to its holiday advertising, having enlisted the efforts of music-branding agency Beta Petrol. Bryan Ray Turcotte, a partner in the agency, said Sears was looking for "something magical that had a very inspiring feel to it. Everything just kind of fell in with the band themselves and the charity message. It all just sort of made a lot of sense and built an even bigger story than we had anticipated in the beginning."
Mr. Ondrasik told Ad Age he "always hesitates" when approached about using his songs for commercials, but found the opportunity to merge his charitable efforts with Sears to be ideal. "We have some common causes. Both of us do work with the troops, and I thought the title or phrase of the song that's implied in their spot and in their message is that you can change somebody's world," he said. "It doesn't necessarily have to be a physical gift, a toaster -- it can be anything. For someone like me, a tape machine changed the course of my life."
Mr. Ondrasik has only penned a song specifically for a campaign once before -- 2003's "Terrasong," for the World Wildlife Federation -- but is open to returning to the concept. He concedes that his songs tend to contain "bumper-sticker lines" that can fit into a variety of different ads. "I don't fish for these, and they have to be perfect for me to go along with it in terms of the concept, timing and use of the song," he said. "But certain aspects of my songs seem to find their way naturally into that space, whether it's the charity world, the advertising world or the self-help industry."
All the extra exposure seems to be paying off in the long-term for Mr. Ondrasik, who saw 2000's "America Town" go platinum four years after its release on the strength of "Superman," as well as platinum sales for "100 Years" on iTunes in 2007. Mr. Ondrasik said he wouldn't be surprised if "World" sees a similar sales bump two years after its initial release, but insists his interests are still philanthropy-based.
"For me, the reason to do the spot was more of a concept and a focus on the troops. But if you talk to record companies, the ideal situation is to have one of these spots incorporated with a new album release. I'm sure [my label] Sony's taken every iTunes download they can get," he said. "With the fragmentation of radio and the decline of the record business, songwriters are looking for a variety of platforms to get their songs heard. That's why you see many new bands taking that path -- it's harder and harder to get your songs out there."