But these mega-musicians still won't grant their tunes to grace advertising.
December 29, 2002
by Brian Truitt
Picture this: A man breaks his wife's favorite antique vase. In a panic, he
rushes to the kitchen to grab the Krazy Glue and avoid his love's potential
wrath. But he inadvertently attaches his palm to the vase, and as a forlorn
_expression comes over his face, you hear Bono crooning the U2 song "Stuck in
a Moment You Can't Get Out of."
It's a great idea for a television advertisement. But companies wanting to
use a U2 tune still haven't found what they're looking for. The only way
you'll ever hear one of the group's songs in an ad is in your imagination.
At a time when new bands are fighting to get their tracks in ads and
established performers like Moby and the Who are licensing their music, U2
is on a short but notable list of groups - including the likes of Beck,
Radiohead, the Beastie Boys and R.E.M. - that don't allow their music to be
used in commercials.
"In this climate, where a lot of people are selling songs, you notice the
holdouts much more, because they're fewer and farther between," says Beth
Urdang, music supervisor at Agoraphone Music Direction, a New York-based
company that works with ad agencies to match music to commercials.
Some bands are getting hip to pitching products, but there's still a strong
"selling out" stigma attached. And there's a good reason for such thinking:
Many people probably still think of Sunkist when they hear the Beach Boys'
"Good Vibrations." It essentially became a jingle, and Urdang says some
artists may worry that their music could become synonymous with an ad or a
"Bands like U2 and R.E.M. are being cautious about...a worldwide
reputation," says Urdang, a former Wieden & Kennedy ad executive who
collaborated on the 1998 Nike ad that put the Verve's hummable "Bitter Sweet
Symphony" in the heads of millions of TV viewers. "These songs are not
meaningful to a small coterie in their hometown; they're meaningful to the
whole world, and it must be a difficult choice to think about changing the
meaning of [a] song."
So how can one please a client who's dead-set on using an unattainable song?
It's up to ad agency music producers to find a band that matches the
better-known artist's iconic sound, although "it's just not as simple as 'X
replaces Y,' " Urdang says. One of her clients once wanted a song with the
Beastie Boys' energy, so she recommended Plastilina Mosh; their song was
used in a Palm TB spot. When U2 is requested, the go-to groups for an
anthemic sound are French electronica duo Air - whose songs have been
featured in commercials for Levi's and L'Oreal - and the Doves.
Rich Bologna, former music director at Fallon advertising in Minneapolis,
which won this year's Clio Award for Agency of the Year, says finding a
lesser-known artist means fewer headaches. "For a lot of labels, this is a
vehicle to get their music out there in an unorthodox media," Bologna says.
"And you don't have to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars for the
new Britney Spears track if you have some good music that's more reasonable
and more underground."
But some smaller bands emulate their more famous peers and balk when an
agency requests to use a track. Belle & Sebastian, a Scottish folk-pop
septet on Rough Trade Records, turned down a Gap ad; Matador Records' Yo La
Tengo also doesn't allow its recorded music to be used for commercials but
is game for writing original music for ads, as they did for four recent
animated Starbucks commercials created by Fallon-New York.
"I'm very proud of my bands," says Lyle Hysen, head of the film and TV
department at Matador. "They're a finicky bunch, and if they don't want to
do the spot, they won't do it...But now, I think bands see and hear other
bands on TV and getting paid, and they want to be a part of that, too."
Finding the Right Pitch
These five bands are so hot, no one can touch them, especially advertisers.
But what if they did allow their songs to be used in commercials? We
wondered what kinds of ads their tunes might inspire:
Epic, impressive ads such as those you'd see during a Super Bowl would be an
appropriate fit for arguably the biggest band in the world. "U2 is an iconic
example of emotional, heartfelt, big rock," Agoraphone's Urdang says. The
group's songs could be the soundtrack for an entire Nike campaign: Attach
"Beautiful Day" to a montage of track stars crossing the finish line,
baseball sluggers hitting home runs and Michael Jordan making a game-winning
shot, and use "Desire" as a soundtrack for Tiger Woods approaching the green
with steely eyes.
Like U2, this edgy British group lends itself to anthemic campaigns like
sports or auto ads. But many of the band's fans hail from a younger
generation, so its hit "Creep" could be used in an ad for an Internet job
search company: Imagine a guy sitting at his desk, head in his hands and
hating his job, as Thom Yorke sings the lyric "I don't belong here."
The jangly strains of the seminal '90s alt-rock band have become so well
known, they're instantly recognizable: Think "It's the End of the World as
We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" and "Losing My Religion." Advertisers could
have a field day with R.E.M.'s repertoire. Stick "Everybody Hurts" on an
aspirin commercial. "One I Love" is perfect for a Hallmark Valentine's Day
campaign. "Shiny Happy People"? McDonald's could have food, folks, fun and
This one-man smorgasbord of genres uses a little hip-hop here, some quirky
pop there and infectious melodies (which ad agencies love) everywhere. OK,
so Hair Cuttery may shy away from using "Devil's Haircut," but "Where It's
At" has a funky vibe that could lure customers to, say, Best Buy.
For a party vibe, often associated with beer commercials, what could be
better than this trio's seminal "You Gotta Fight for Your Right (to Party)"?