On this day in 2007, Beatles fans feared the misuse of the Fab Four’s music had hit rock bottom following the decision to license “All You Need Is Love” for use in a nappy advert. Procter & Gamble had purchased the rights to use the song from Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which now owned Northern Songs, the Beatles’ catalogue. The ad featured a baby jumping on a teddy bear in a disposable nappy, which offered ‘ultimate leak protection’.
So many classic songs have been associated with products we have no interest in or have been used to sell everything from cold drinks, washing detergent, holidays, beds, cars you name it, it’s a song put to it.
TV ads are generally considered the most effective mass-market advertising format, and this is reflected by the high prices TV networks charge for airtime. The annual Super Bowl American football game is known as much for who will appear in the commercial breaks as for the game itself. If you have a product to sell, the average cost of a single 30-second TV spot (seen by 90 million viewers) is only $3 million. Bargain!
When advertising laws were relaxed in the 1980s advertisers began to look at using famous songs for their adverts. Burger King used the Aretha Franklin song “Freeway of Love” to promote their restaurants. Guinness went for Louis Armstrong’s classic “We Have All the Time in the World” resulting in the song charting 25 years after it was first released.
Many songs used during this time were actually used without the permission of the original artists, such an example being Nike, who famously used “Revolution” by the Beatles without their permission.
We all remember the Coca-Cola advertisement from the early '70s which was re-recorded as the pop single "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" by the New Seekers, and became a massive hit. (The inspiration behind the ad - people from different nations coming together - came from industry executive Bill Backer whilst waiting for his flight in a busy airport departure lounge).
In recent years we’ve had some great, long-forgotten tunes appear on ads (which must be a nice surprise for some now retired songwriters): The Bellamy Brothers' “Let Your Love Flow”, (Barclaycard), The Clash's “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” (jeans), Free’s “Alright Now” (chewing gum). Some are just plainly mismatched - Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life", a song about heroin addiction, has been used to advertise Royal Caribbean International, a cruise ship line.
Who could forget Nick Kamen? In 1985 the slim, brooding model walked into a launderette, removed his pants (don’t try this), and instantly became one of the world’s biggest sex symbols - and sent the sale of Levi 501s flying through the roof. Not only that, the choice of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” gave the classic song a return to the charts.
Microsoft's famously paid a vast amount of cash to the Glimmer Twins for the use of "Start Me Up" by the Stones. And Apple have employed the services of some of the more credible artists to promote their iPhones, iPads, iMacs, and iAnythingelse - U2, Feist, Gorillaz, Jet, N.E.R.D, Daft Punk, The Black Eyed Peas, The Ting Tings, and Coldplay to name but a few.
Luckily, some ad agencies are stopped in their tracks.
In 2004 Johnny Cash's family blocked an attempt by advertisers to use his hit song “Ring of Fire” to promote haemorrhoid-relief products. The idea was said to have been backed by Merle Kilgore, who co-wrote the song with Cash's wife, June Carter Cash. Cash's daughter Rosanne said the family "would never allow the song to be demeaned like that."