Music and Marketing

Thumbs Up or Down? Music Critics Weigh in on Songs in Ads

Turns Out Not Everyone Is a Fan of Using Licensed Tunes in Commercials

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The tectonic shift in the music industry's business has helped undo the stigma once reserved for bands who worked with advertisers on campaigns.

No longer a sure-fire way to earn a band the "sell out" label, brand partnerships are palatable today for musicians. Damian Kulash from OKGo has gone so far as to say he'd rather work with a marketer than a record label.

A good pairing between band and brand can help satisfy a client and boost record sales for an artist. But that means the match has to strike just the right chord.

What do music critics think about this co-mingling? We checked in with a few to find out which marketer-artist pairing worked and which ones fell flat. Here's what four prominent critics had to say:

Leah Greenblatt, music editor, Entertainment Weekly: thumbs up to Apple and Target, thumbs up to Royal Caribbean

For the EW critic, the perfect marriage between advertiser and band is when a deserving and underappreciated artist gains greater exposure.

The top example, she said, is Apple's use of "baby bands" on the Interscope labels. And Target, she added, is brilliant with music. Recent back-to-school ads featuring a little girl playing contemporary songs on a recorder are very well done, Ms. Greenblatt said. "It's doing something fresh with the song."

A Royal Caribbean commercial that used the song "Lust for Life" by Iggy Pop she counts as amusing. "It's an awesome song, but it's about hedonism and doing illegal things," she said. "They don't ever hear the part about liquor and drugs." But, she said, she kind of likes seeing Iggy Pop get the exposure.

Mark Richardson, editor-in-chief, Pitchfork Music: thumbs up to Chrysler and thumbs down to Outback Steakhouse

The partnership between Eminem and Chrysler for the automaker's "Imported from Detroit" campaign led to the "perfect mix of sound, image and message," according to Mr. Richardson. "The use of music here is subtle and there is a lot going on in this ad," he said. "But the guitar really ratchets up the tension, and works to gradually reveal that Em himself is riding in the car."

Mr. Richardson counts an Outback Steakhouse spot with music from indie act Of Montreal as a complete flop. The ad tranforms an Of Montreal song into a jingle for the chain restaurant. "Every band has to draw a line as far as what they are willing to do as far as commercials, but changing lyrics to fit the product is a tough sell for fans," he said.

Jim DeRogatis, co-host of the nationally distributed public radio show Sound Opinions: (qualified) thumbs up to HP and thumbs down to Chrysler

To Mr. DeRogatis, the mash up of popular music and advertising is distasteful.

He does, however, like efforts that result in a commercial for the band, not the marketer. He points to an older Hewlett-Packard ad with the Flaming Lips. "Damn if I can remember what computer product it was," he said, calling the ad surreal and playful. "I like it in spite of itself because I hate the idea of using art to sell."

Among the very worst, he said, is Iggy Pop appearing in a Chrysler commercial that takes place outside the former location of CBGB in New York. The idea of a punk icon selling cars is antithetical to punk music, he said. "It makes me want to kill."

Ben Ratliff, jazz and pop music critic, The New York Times: thumbs up to Kia and Dole bananas

Old and new come together when the pop music critic at The New York Times considers music and advertising.

Black Sheep's "The Choice is Yours (Revisited)" in a Kia ad was funny, he said. An old ad for Dole Bananas featuring Pink Floyd's "The Great Gig In the Sky" is a "transcendentally weird/amazing ad," according to Mr. Ratliff.

He wouldn't name any of the worst, though he did call out a certain genre.

"TV ads have also popularized (maybe even developed) this weird, distasteful non-genre of flaccid singy-songy pop for middle-aged people with whistling and ukuleles," he said. "How did this happen?"

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