Marketing by Music: The refuseniks

Having their music appear in commercials can propel the artists' fame into the stratosphere, as well as aiding their bank accounts. Yet some artists choose to resist. Pippa Considine finds out why.

Bruce Springsteen rejected $15 million from Chrysler and Radiohead turned their backs on the not-insubstantial sum of $6 million from Toyota.

Capitalism may have the world in its grip but it seems that there are still some musicians who would rather be seen clutching a guitar naked than have their music accompany the latest car launch.

But there are not that many. When you see what an ad can do for a song, in addition to the up-front payment, it is not hard to see why few choose to hold out.

The Dandy Warhols were dead in the water until their single Bohemian Like You famously went into the top five after being used by Vodafone.

Babylon Zoo were pushed into the musical limelight when they featured in a Levi's ad. Old hits have been given a new lease of life - take the Elvis track A Little Less Conversation, which shot to number one after it was used in Nike's World Cup 2002 ads. And Moby's album Play has been an Aladdin's Cave for advertising (and Moby's bank balance). Every track has featured in at least one commercial, some in several. But it is not always such a great thing. For some artists, their worst nightmare is their song becoming indelibly linked to a soft drink or brand of clothing, turning its raison d'etre into a jingle.

Tracie London-Rowell, Universal Music's director of film, TV and advertising, has to persuade Universal artists to get involved with advertising projects.

"I wouldn't say any of my bands (which range from Elton John to the Scissor Sisters) are particularly difficult, but they are creative people and you have to respect that. The agency may want the track altered or remixed, which is like the artist saying 'I like the product, but the visuals are shit'. The first part of my job is to stop the artist saying 'no' outright."

By and large, it is the artists who can afford to say no who dig their heels in. Some highly principled, lesser-known bands do occasionally head for the high ground. Take the relatively low-profile Belle & Sebastian, the Scottish folk-pop septet on Rough Trade Records that turned down a Gap ad. But it is more often bands such as U2, Crowded House and Radiohead who feature on the list of commercials refuseniks. Some have no-go areas, such as ads promoting meat or alcohol, others just will not do ads, with the odd honourable exception. Back in 1987, after the furore over The Beatles' song Revolution appearing in a $7 million Nike campaign, George Harrison complained: "Unless we do something about it, every Beatles song is going to end up advertising bras and pork pies." Paul McCartney felt the practice "cheapened" their music and, apart from Nike and a mid-80s Ford commercial that featured an original recording of Help, all Beatles songs used in commercials have been covers.

The singer-songwriter Tom Waits is another who has strong opinions on why he dislikes his music being used in ads: "An artist has the right to have his or her work presented as intended and not ruthlessly cannibalised. The licensing of a song for a commercial against the wishes of the artist reduces it to a meaningless jingle, where it becomes fused with the product and its image." Waits has had a rocky relationship with the ad industry. In 1988, he was awarded $2.5 million from the Dallas-based Tracy-Locke agency after it used a Waits impersonator to mimic his voice in a Frito-Lay corn chips ad. He also won a case over the unauthorised use of his song Heartattack and Vine in "procession", a 1993 commercial for Levi's.

Artists' feelings can run strong. In 1967, Jim Morrison threatened to smash a Buick on TV if the company aired a commercial featuring Light My Fire (the other members of the band had agreed a deal while he was out of town).

Sometimes, the artist does not have control of the use of his track, which can add to his or her angst. The Verve's Richard Ashcroft, fuming after Vauxhall used Bittersweet Symphony in an ad, told fans not to buy Vauxhall cars. A downer for the client, which had secured the relevant licences without reference to The Verve, who had no right of approval.

Of course, it might not be a matter of pure artistic integrity that makes a band or artist circumspect about allowing their work into the world of commercials. It might be that they are just after an obscene amount of money. Eminem sued Apple earlier this year over the use of one of his songs from the movie 8 Mile, allegedly without permission. The 15-page lawsuit includes the following: "Eminem has never nationally endorsed any commercial products and therefore he indicated, though his manager, that even if he were interested in endorsing a product, any endorsement deal would require a significant amount of money, possibly in excess of $10 million."

Attitudes are changing. Madonna has always been picky about where her songs are used. But her resolve has softened - in the past few years, she has allowed Max Factor, Gap and Microsoft to use Ray of Light. Led Zeppelin, who went as far as refusing to release singles and to appear on Top of the Pops back in the 70s in order to avoid commercialisation, allowed a track to be used in a Cadillac ad in the US. Robert Smith of The Cure gave in to a Fiat Punto ad in 2003.

The increasing need for record companies to drive revenues wherever they can, together with the pressure from advertisers to find more effective communications solutions, is bringing the two parties closer. Georgie Summerhayes, the managing director of the music division of TBWA's Stream, was a former commercial director at EMI Records. "Record companies have had to change contracts with artists to include driving income from non-traditional activities," she says.

But there are still artists who don't want to be involved. Steve Levy, the head of marketing at BMG Music Publishing International, sums it up: "While there is a clear shift towards well-known tracks by top recording artists and songwriters being used in ads, there will always be driven, creative people who want to take a stand."

Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content

Share

1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).