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Behind the music of tune-driven commercials for Kmart, MINI, Nike and Coors.

By Published on .

Timbaland puts the music in this musical extravaganza.
Kmart "Jimmy & Jenny"
Prolific beatmaker Timbaland's hip-hop duet laces this Joe Boxer pitch with flavor and soul, hitting the target's pop cultural buttons with uncontrived authenticity. The spot is a flashy production, with fresh-faced leads and a legion of tightly choreographed dancers shimmying to Timbaland's electrified beat, all akin (along with edits, art direction and styling) to director Dave Meyers' work on such MTV hits as Missy Elliott's "Work It" (a song Timbaland produced). TBWAChiatDayNew York, senior creative Daniel Chu says teaming Meyers and the hitmaking producer avoids the hackneyed habit of plying overt weirdness at the youthful target. "In the times we're living in, with so much uncertainty, with so much stress, with TV constantly delivering bad news, it was time to put something out there that was fun and passionate," says Chu. "We weren't concerned about going below the radar. We wanted to attack it head on."

Meyers was a shoo-in for the job and senior agency producer Lora Schulson connected the dots between director, producer and agency. "Ten years from now, you could put on a Timbaland track and it'll still sound forward," claims Chu. "You can't say that about most of today's young hot producers. Tim produced the beats. I wrote eight short hooks that, when connected, form the song. And Timbaland sings the hooks. That's the extent of the collaboration. It was smooth. It was fun. It's definitely something we all brag about. But it was also work, and the work paid off when we saw the expressions on everyone's face the first time we played the finished song for people." Meyers and Schulson supervised the process, bringing hip-hop video choreographer HiHat into the mix, completing the synthesis of what's as much a visually addictive feelgood reprieve as it is a product-specific retail spot. Many have tried and failed to force hip-hop trappings onto marketing scenarios; this combination of A-list talent, sexy lyrics and approachability leaves pretenders in the dust. "Joe Boxer isn't a hip-hop brand," says Chu. "It's a pop culture brand, and hip-hop is a force in pop culture. Our audience doesn't hold onto barriers like us old folks." (Sandy Hunter)

Mini shakes things up.
Mini "Carbonation"
"We were looking for something that mirrored the fun of driving; kind of rocking and hip but not taking itself too seriously, says writer Rob Strassberg of Crispin Porter + Bogusky. "Something cool without trying, like the Mini itself. We wanted a piece of music you would play to get you excited to drive -- motoring music." Mini's "Carbonation" delivers just that, drawing on the now decades-old power pop/punk guitar sound. The inevitable fun derived from the little car is driven home by the slightly ironic juxtaposition of the lyric "Not bad at all" hitting at the same time as a soda shaken up by a twisting, jumpy cruise around town. The song itself was drawn from the back catalog of former Redd Kross frontman (and sometime Beck bassist) Steven MacDonald, via MacDonald's and co-writer Anna Waronker's music company, Natural Energy Lab. "It's somewhere between a rollicking, freewheeling rock song with an indie kind of cool quality," says agency music supervisor Bill Meadows. "It sounds like the Mini, in a way; it's kind of rocking and hip but doesn't take itself too seriously." Meadows, a former DJ turned lawyer turned music supervisor, was turned on to the unreleased track by Liza Richardson of Stimmung. "We went over 70 songs," recalls Meadows. "Commercials music houses submitted spec demos and we had other previously released label stuff, which seemed to work best. There was good music house stuff, but we were looking for a happy accident. You're hoping for two things that are independently cool, with a synergy between them."

Producer Oscar Thomas and Richardson negotiated the deal to use "Not Bad At All"; one of Meadows' tasks is to furnish as many musical options as possible. "Some things you know you are going to have to get something scored, but generally speaking, it's 'We want music that sounds like this,' or, 'Music that has this kind of vibe,'" he explains. "I go into the CDs I have, whether they're stock or original. If I need more music, I call third parties like Liza. But Mini is the kind of "cool" brand, notes Meadows, that will virtually sell itself to musicians. "It's not like doing a household cleaner. People dig the Mini campaigns, and we work out good deals for everybody." (Sandy Hunter)

Graffiti comes to life in this Asian campaign for Nike.
Nike Presto "Urban Canvas"
A pan-Asian Nike Presto campaign, built on a wild fusion of street-level graffiti, demanded beats beyond the usual licensed or referenced dance track. So Wieden + Kennedy/Tokyo went to the source, bringing Japanese DJ/musician/producer DJ Uppercut into his first commercial venture. "He's part of a new breed of Japanese hybrid musicians who also happens to be the second artist we're going to release in the soon-to-launch W+K Tokyo Lab music label," says art director Eric Cruz, who notes that DJ Uppercut has already collaborated with bands like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The Presto brand has been associated with cutting-edge music since it's inception, with top talent like Ken Ishii, DJ Krush, DJ Kensei and Fumiya Tanaka working on a previous DJ-inspired campaign, the music of which was, true to form, released on vinyl. This campaign focused on street visuals over sounds and demanded suitably pan-Asian music.

"Uppercut has an unusual hybrid style, fusing abstract hip-hop and electronic club music, redefining what technologically-inspired music is," says Cruz. "His rich, textural approach to music uses traditional instruments as a point of departure to sample from and organically manipulate; and he uses the turntable itself as an instrument, distinctly different from how one would normally hear it. In this sense, he's hard to classify. But he exemplified the Presto campaign concept of 'Urban Canvas' -- a digital and organic fusion of human expression." Uppercut provided an initial track to the creative team and animation/production company Motion Theory, and they sent back visuals inspired by the composition. "After several back-and-forths of build-and-destroy, we finally settled on a mix we both thought suited the project," says Cruz. "Electronica or hip-hop in most other cultures mean very specific things: ambient, rave or gangsta. This is Japanese electro hip-hop, if you can even call it that. Uppercut himself describes his music as pop. One of our goals as an agency is to broadcast relevant local talent. In this case, we wanted the rest of Asia to hear what Tokyo-ites were up to." The norm in Japanese commercials is commissioned music by Top 40 pop acts, but W+K/Tokyo's focus on collaboration and new expression led Cruz and company to Uppercut's door. "It also helped that Sasu and Kami, the two foremost street artists in Japan, are friends with Uppercut," adds Cruz. "Tokyo is a sophisticated and tight-knit culture. Everyone pays attention to what everyone else is doing, so it all gelled quite nicely." (Sandy Hunter)

Coors mixes DMC, The Byrds, P.O.D. and The Scorpions into one big rock anthem.
Coors Light "Rock On"
This FCB/Chicago spot is a twentysomething party in 30 seconds. While the visuals are the de rigueur tableaux of attractive young people blissfully dancing and flirting with one another, the spot really owes its success to the music. The montage soundtrack is so dynamic, by the 15-second mark you're doing a muted headbang from the comfort of your couch. Hollywood music house DeepMix used four songs to create the soundtrack, each with the word "rock" in the title. The spot builds on "We Came To Rock," by P.O.D.; working up to "So You Wanna Be a Rock ‘n' Roll Star," by the Byrds; Run DMC's "I'm The King Of Rock"; and the unmistakable guitar riff and chorus of "Rock You Like A Hurricane" by the Scorpions.

DeepMix and FCB, working with Platinum Rye, an entertainment consulting firm handling the music licensing and budgeting for "Rock On," took numerous stabs at the soundtrack before finally finding one that worked. "We had a few different remixes that creatively were really good, but once you start homing in on a piece of music, the other part of the equation comes into play -- contracts and budgets," says Dave Curtin, partner/creative director at DeepMix. "So we just kept going back at it until we found the right combination of songs that worked both creatively and economically." Allowing DeepMix to compose before securing the licensing on the songs was great for the creative process, but placing the cart before the horse meant that more time was needed, and letting good material go to waste was part of a day's work. "The logistics were probably as immense as the idea itself," says Tom O'Keefe, ECD at FCB/Chicago. "Obviously, music licensing is a huge area in advertising, and when you're dealing with more than one license for a single spot, there are a lot of people who have to approve it." Music's power to recall feelings and memories was galvanized to give "Rock On" the necessary impact. "Finding the emotion was what the client really understood about the project," adds O'Keefe. "That's something you really have to work hard to achieve. Anyone can run four songs together, but it will be flat."

"We wanted to keep a common thread throughout the piece, so we created some original music and a drum loop," explains Curtin. "It took a lot of finessing to edit it and maintain the integrity, so it made sense at 30 seconds." Curtin, who received numerous calls and e-mails from consumers about the soundtrack to "Rock On," sees a higher standard emerging for music for commercials in the areas of cross-promotions with record labels and new artists, original music and remixes. "It's really an exciting time for advertising and the music business, where they're all coming together to collectively raise the bar -- musically, visually and conceptually." (Adam Remson)

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