Former Anti-Business Band Does P&G Commercials

A Softer, Gentler Devo Sings Praises of Home-Cleaning Products

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NEW YORK ( -- "Whip It," the 1980 song that was the anthem of the band Devo's rage against a society dehumanized by industry and commercialism, is now the theme of a Procter & Gamble Co. TV campaign for the Swiffer line of home-cleaning products.

Doing a Devo-like robot dance, a housewife cleans house in one of the new Swiffer commercials.

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In a new version of the tune, Devo lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh substitutes the lyrics "Swiffer's good" for the "Whip it good" of the original.

Robotic dance moves
In the commercials, middle-aged affluent women perform joyful robotic dance moves as they use Swiffer dusters and Wet-Jet floor mops to clean their sprawling suburban homes.

Devo agreed to perform the altered version for Swiffer advertisements because, Mr. Mothersbaugh said, "it was so absurd. We like messing with the boundaries between art and commerce."

Now president of Devo Inc. and owner of a West Hollywood, Calif., production company called Mutato Muzika, Mr. Mothersbaugh creates music for cartoon shows including Rugrats and Clifford the Big Red Dog. He said Devo's move into product promotion "is coming full circle, to be commenting on a conspicuous, consumptive culture ... and to be fed into the hopper and spit back out the other side."

Photo: AP
Although "Whip it" was their only giant hit, Devo is still performing. The band is shown here in a 2000 appearance in Hollywood, Calif., where they maintain a studio. Click to see larger image.
Uniquely frantic music
The five-member band from the Ohio rust belt originally burst on the national scene with a 1978 appearance on Saturday Night Live as a kind of musical geek show act. As much performance artists as musicians, they wore electric yellow jumpsuits and red flowerpot hats as they performed frantic, futuristic music that, to many, suggested the sounds of an overly accelerated industrial assembly line. Their most striking visual signature was the herky-jerky, robotlike movement they used as they danced around the stage.

The name "Devo" was short for devolution and a reference to an arcane but then fashionable political protest movement that railed against the ways it saw industry and commercialism taking human society backward.

The latest phase of Devo's crossover into the full commercialism it once resented was orchestrated by Swiffer's ad agency, Publicis Groupe's Kaplan Thaler Group, New York. The Devo "Swiff it" commercials are the first full-blown branding effort from the shop since it picked up the Swiffer advertising responsibilities when the brand moved from now-defunct Publicis network D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York.

New P&G initiatives
The new creative ad concept comes in the wake of P&G's high-profile first foray through this year's Cannes International Advertising Festival, the ad industry's largest and most prestigious annual event.

There, P&G's global marketing officer, Jim Stengel, and a crew of colleagues and agencies announced several initiatives aimed at improving the creative content of P&G's advertisement, among them to use music more effectively to connect with consumers and to add more humor.

Maurice Coffey, who introduced Swiffer for P&G four years ago and has helped steer its growth as brand manager ever since, explained that since Swiffer's inception the approach to marketing has been "we have a chance to not only change the cleaning process, but also the attitude people have about cleaning."

The idea to use Devo and its famous tune developed from a consumer research finding. "We asked consumers what they do while they are cleaning, and most turn on music," Mr. Coffey said. Kaplan Thaler's creative team, Robert Lee and Frank Bele, connected that with "Whip it" and wrote the new lyrics.

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