Repurposed Pop Song

So there’s this song from your youth. Whenever you listen to it, it brings back a whole lot of good memories, and you end up going through the rest of your day with a smile.

What better tune to use to advertise a product?

Advertising is all about appealing to emotion to make a sale, and few things hold more unalloyed positive emotion than a favorite song. It’s not surprising that the advertising industry very quickly seized upon the idea of buying the rights to a song and using it in an ad. The basic argument is that the good feelings the viewer has for the song will be transferred at least in part to the product, making a new customer or reinforcing an existing one.

As virtually everyone will tell you, it doesn’t always work. But that doesn’t keep the agencies from trying again and again.

Apparently this practice “works” often enough in the sense of selling enough of the product to make the practice economically sustainable, no matter how artistically objectionable. Spam email has to work on somebody too, right?

This practice come in several varieties:

  • Played straight. Usually the most expensive option. The agency bought the rights to the specific recording that everyone knows. It’s used almost untouched except possibly for a bit of editing to make it fit the length of the commercial, or to get right away to the “good bits” (i.e., the part that has relevance to the commercial’s pitch).
  • Cover version. The agency didn’t buy (or couldn’t afford) the rights to the actual recording, so instead they acquired the right to use the song itself and did their own version. Sometimes it’s made as close to the original as possible; sometimes it’s wildly different. Moody Trailer Cover Song applies this logic to trailers.
  • Product-specific lyrics. An extension of the “Cover Version”. The song’s lyrics are rewritten to extol the virtues of the product. This can have the biggest backlash if potential customers feel the original song is somehow “cheapened” or “ruined”, so this treatment is often reserved for older or more obscure music.

An agency with an especially low budget (or high concept) might also do any of the above with a song from the public domain, up to and including nursery rhymes. This has much the same effect, but with fewer lawyers and a lot less money involved.

A song can also be instantly repurposed if an advertiser buys the rights before it’s even released. In such cases the commercial use hits the airwaves at the same time as the original song, or sometimes before, and effectively turns it into a Celebrity Endorsement.

Repurposing a pop song can have a Broken Aesop effect if the message of the song is subtler than you’d get by listening to the loudest parts of the lyrics. For example, there is a movement to make Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” the official state song of New Jersey, despite the fact that it’s about how terrible it is to live in New Jersey and how much the songwriter wanted to leave. (See Isn’t It Ironic?.) Seth Stevenson has written two articles for Slate about this.

Examples:

  • Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” song was used and changed for 118 118. The line Who ya gonna call? commonly known to end “Ghostbusters”, was edited to finish 118. Also in the full length version of the original advert, a verse, the chorus and the bridge were all edited, fitting in with that it was advertising a directory.
    • The song was also used with rewritten lyrics by Courtesy Dealers, changing the lyrics to “If you need a car/or a truck or van/Who ya gonna call?/Go Courtesy!” Ditto for Appleway Motors, cutting more lyrics and changing the rhythm. Also, if you’re from South Florida, Maroone Used Car Dealers. Or Bankston in Dallas. Et cetera.
    • Now that Maroone has become Autonation, Autonation has adopted this song for their ads. They even use it in the ones that say “(car dealer here) is now Auto Nation!”
    • A commercial for 3-liter bottles of Coca-Cola products sang this as “Thirstbusters!”
    • Bizarrely, the instrumental was used in a 1985 ad for the “World’s Toughest Rodeo” that was preserved on a widely circulated copy of Disneyland’s 30th Anniversary Celebration.
    • St. LouisCBS affiliate KMOV 4 (then KMOX) used the song for their news division as “Newsbusters “.
    • Saturday Night Live spoofed this ad in the Parody Commercial for Swill Mineral Water. Because this water is from the then-horribly-polluted Lake Erie, it also comes thick and “rich” out of the bottle as the Simon song plays!
    • Another Carly Simon example: in the late 1970s-until at least the mid-late 1980s note And brought back for a little while in the early 1990s for their newscast promos. , local El Paso, TX CBS affiliate KDBC-TV used “Nobody Does it Better” (from the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me) in some of the station’s promos. note It’s earliest known use was at the beginning of the station’s newscasts. This stopped by the early-mid 1980s or so.
    • A snippet of the song was used with unchanged lyrics in the 1970s(?) for some sort of skin-care product.
    • Toyota also appropriated the tune as a jingle in the ’90s.
    • Pretty much happening to lots of other songs repurposed for video games. Especially Rhythm games. Moonlight Shadow remixed in DanceDanceRevolution? Hello Mood Whiplash!
    • Older readers may remember this song being used for a Perfume Commercial (Chanel No. 5). An early work by director Ridley Scott, you can see it here.
    • Good Vibrations:
      • This song was used for Sunkist orange soda.
      • Used as the advertising jingle for The Good Guys (“come in and see the / good good good / guuuuuys!”) The Good Guys apparently proved, if you stick with the same product (or in this case, store) specific lyrics for long enough, it will eventually work.
      • Used with programming-specific lyrics in bumpers for TLC’s batch of Summer 2010 programming.
      • The song was used in a series of claymation ads for Cadbury’s chocolate, with the lyrics changed to reflect the crazy hijinks that would happen if the world was made of chocolate.
      • A cover version of ‘Wouldn’t it Be Nice’ was used for the Volkswagen ‘Think Blue’ ad campaign.
      • The song is used in a bitterly ironic way in Roger & Me to contrast the problems that happened to Flint, Michigan at the time.
      • “409” was once used to advertise the cleaning product Formula 409.
      • The Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up” for Microsoft Windows 95. Note the Broken Aesop variant here; the next line to the song, not appearing in the commercial itself, is “You make a grown man cry.” Another line not used is “I can’t compete”, which some snarkier types have found quite amusing in light of Microsoft’s apparent monopolistic ambitions, coupled with notorious quality control problems (especially in the area of security).
        • They actually tried to buy R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” which would have probably been even worse; however the band turned them down.
        • On the same boat, MS tried to use “21st Century Digital Boy” by Bad Religion, which is about overreliance on technology and the negative effect it has.
        • The song appears to be about living in a crumbling, decadent, totalitarian empire. Take your pick whether it’s the Soviet Union or Microsoft.
        • A version of “Da Da Da” with rewritten lyrics was also used to advertise Ariston domestic appliances in the UK during the mid-80s.
        • In the 1980s, they used “Mack the Knife” with product-specific lyrics as “Mac Tonite” to promote longer operating hours. To drive the point home, the commercials featured a character also called “Mac Tonite”, a lounge singer with a moon for a head.
        • Pepsi was big about rock/pop star endorsements in The ’80s; other songs they used via their original performers and rewritten lyrics included “”Modern Love,” “Billie Jean”, and “Bad”. Another was set to the tune of Glenn Frey’s “You Belong to the City”.
          • One of Glenn’s Pepsi commecials had him with Don Johnson along for the ride. The full version is here
          • Then in the nineties, Van Halen’s “Right Now” was used in ads for Crystal Pepsi.
          • On the other hand, Pepsi used The Who’s “My Generation” quite well in one of their more contemporary ads.
          • As of 2007, Grolsch beer has licensed “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” for use in its ads for a lager sold in beugel bottles that have a swing-top cap.
          • A competing pickup truck ad called GM on the carpet for that. Its ad was a ballad about their truck coming across a broken-down Chevrolet truck and rescuing it. The end of the ballad is “It’s some kinda rock, all right.”
          • The latter song was actually used in promotional advertising for the United States Navy for a short time — as part of the deal, the music video was shot on a Navy frigate. The song was dropped from advertising because of protests over using taxpayer money to assist in the production of a then-controversial video.
          • Marshmallow Alpha Bits used a product-specific version as their jingle in 2000 , complete with letter-related puns (example: “You can wear your PJs, you can dance to CDs”)
          • The tune was used in the UK to advertise the insurance comparison website Confused.com, with lyrics unrelated to the original song.
          • And then there’s Target’s use of Devo’s “Beautiful World” (“it’s a beautiful world we live in. “), of course omitting the subsequent lines “. for you” and “it’s not for me”)

          What do I get
          Nothing that’s nice
          What do I get
          nothing at all at all at all at all at all at all at all
          ‘cos I don’t get you.

          • It should be noted that ABC and ESPN have used a rewritten version of Hank Williams Jr.’s “All My Rowdy Friends Are Comin’ Over Tonight” to advertise Monday Night Football, performed by Bocephus himself.
          • Another Meat Loaf single, “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” was used humorously for a Dr Pepper commercial in which a man does increasingly unmanly things to please his girlfriend as the lyrics play. She tries to take a drink of his Dr Pepper just as the chorus begins. And he leaves her.
            • Another commercial has Red M&M singing about doing anything for love-but then it turns out there are a lot of things he won’t do.
            • Meat Loaf himself sang a portion of “Anything for Love” in a commercial for A1 steak sauce in which he starred.
            • The song was also used during a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment in Sausage Party.
            • “Mambo No. 5” was also used as bumper music at the 2000 Democratic National Convention, the same night as then-outgoing President Clinton’s speech. “A little bit of Monica. ” is probably not what they wanted voters thinking about that fall.
            • Bizarrely, it was also sung by children’s TV character Bob the Builder, obviously with different lyrics.
              • It was used to advertise Ford motor vehicles in Australia, a few months BEFORE it became a huge hit in Oz.
              • Not to mention that shortly after Robert Palmer’s death they used “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor Doctor)” as “Bad Case of Loving Twos” and “Simply Irresistible” became “Simply Irresisti-bowls”.
              • Applebee’s also had a commercial with the implied message that eating at Applebee’s was patriotic and all-American set to the first few lines of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”: “Some folks are born made to wave the flag, ooh that red, white and blue.” They neglected to use the very next line: “But when the band plays ‘Hail To The Chief’, ooh they point the cannon at you. It ain’t me, it ain’t me, I ain’t no Fortunate Son.”

              I like bread and butter,
              I like toast and jam,
              I like the pure and simple things,
              And that’s why I like SPAM!

              • A later use of a Waits song (in a Levi’s ad) was made even more painful because the sound alike hired was Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, one of Waits’s biggest influences.
              • He still is notoriously anti-commercial. He sued both these companies. And WON. That’s why you don’t mess with Tom motherfuckin’ Waits.
              • Though he did allow All Elite Wrestling head Tony Khan to use his “Ol’ 55” in the promotion’s memorial video for the recently departed Mr. Brodie Lee, with AEW buying rights to the song so that the video would never have to be re-edited. Then again, that particular use isn’t exactly commercial.
              • As of 2015 it’s been used by King Games in commercials for Candy Crush Saga.
              • Not to mention that the song is supposedly about Generation X’s disillusionment with the hippie movement becoming commercialized.
              • And a Pillsbury commercial which changed the lyrics to “Bake Your Cookies”.
                • And diet “supplement” Sensa has used “shake your Sensa.”
                • In fact, the instrumental for “Centuries”, from the album released after SRAR, was used in an ESPN promo a month before the song was officially released; they proceeded to use it throughout the season to hype up the inaugural College Football Playoff, where ESPN would ultimately play the song so much that Fall Out Boy actually apologized for it becoming an annoyance to college football fans.
                • In the U.S., the original version was used to advertise California Raisins during the 1980s.
                • It was also repurposed for this”No Talking or Phones” Warning PSA that tied in with the original release of Meet the Robinsons.
                • Pepsi used “Brown Sugar” at some point in the 90s as well. In this case, it was sung by a CGI ant (or was it a fly?)
                • A commercial for “Cool Quenchers” used the Epic Riff to accompany two boys arm-wrestling for the last Cool Quencher (which is taken by a small girl while they’re doing it).
                • Cheesestrings UK adverts changed it to “Bend me, shake me, any way you want me / You got a Cheeststring, you’re alright”
                • Kids’ WB! had a promo for The Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries in which Tweety leads the entire Kid’s WB lineup in chanting “We like da puddy!” Sylvester finishes it by saying “And I like the Tweety!” and swallowing Tweety.
                • It had previously been repurposed with the same altered lyrics by either Kmart or Target for store-brand children’s summer clothing and poolwear. At least they had the “decency” to hack it to bits in order to remove any references to drugs or relationships.
                • It was also used in this brilliant ad for Super Smash Bros.
                • The song was used by a Malaysian chicken meat conglomerate called Ayamas to sell chicken produce.
                • It was also used as a love song between two star-crossed Twix bars .
                • Macy’s also used it in a June 2015 ad, having it sung by various products in the store.
                • The same year, the song was played at the very beginning of Minions.
                • The same company uses Peter Schilling’s “Space Oddity” follow-up “Major Tom (Coming Home)” (as performed by Shiny Toy Guns) for a later model of that very same car.
                • While on the subject of Bowie, a Cadillac commercial used “Fame” as the background music, without realizing the song is not at all about luxury, but about how being famous is a bit of a drag.
                • Not to be outdone, the McCain/Palin campaign got Hank Williams Jr. to re-do his song “Family Tradition” into “McCain/Palin Tradition”.
                  • Before that, John McCain’s campaign briefly used “Johnny B. Goode”, but Chuck Berry made them stop.
                  • The McCain campaign also attempted to use John Mellencamp’s “This Is Our Country” without getting permission and without realizing that not only are the lyrics of the song extremely bitter and sarcastic, but that Mellencamp is a Democrat.
                  • Perhaps an even worse example for that same song: a local radio commercial in the middle Georgia area sets a jingle for a steakhouse to the tune of “99 Red Balloons”.
                  • A British local radio station managed to do even worse, by using “99 Red Balloons”, with the first verse of lyrics, in trailers for a charity balloon release. Great choice: a song where nuclear Armageddon is accidentally caused by releasing balloons.
                  • Before Swiffer, though, rewritten versions of “Whip It” were used in at least three other commercials: Gateway, Pringles, and a promo ad on Nickelodeon for The Fairly OddParents merchandise (with the chorus changed to “Wish it good!”)
                  • This song was used for a shampoo commercial (either Pantene or Garnier commercial) some years ago.
                  • This song was used in a Swiffer ad, and once again, “I believe in miracles” was emphasized.
                  • This song was used in the commercial for the second National Dog Show (2003).
                  • A few years ago Mitsubishi’s Australian ad campaign was also based around “You Get What You Give.” Refuge in Audacity, or corporate ignorance?
                  • A cover of the song by Atomic Kitten was used in commercials for Thomas and the Magic Railroad.
                  • Cool Whip used the very same song in the US, turning it into “Do the Cool Whip”; it’s still periodically used to this day.
                  • KFC used an lyrically-altered version of the song to advertise Kentucky Nuggets in Malaysia back in the 80s.
                  • It was also used in this GEICO ad.
                  • Also used by Cranberry Juice Cocktail: “Crave the Wave!” Always wanted to try them together after that.
                  • The Cabbage Patch Kids Pajama Dance Party dolls sing this song .
                  • One use was especially ironic; it was for a limited-edition Burger King sandwich — some kind of “cheddar/mushroom melt” thing — but the band got really upset when they heard that, because one of the band members was vegan.
                  • Speaking of Chrysler, for Super Bowl XLV in 2011, the company aired a 2-minute commercial for the Chrysler 200 with the instrumental riff of Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in the background. The spot ends with Eminem himself taking the stage at Detroit’s Fox Theatre and saying “This is the Motor City. And this is what we do.” Of course, it must be noted that the spot was more about Detroit’s (both the city and the US auto industry) comeback from economic catastrophe than it was about the car itself. which may well have appealed to Eminem.
                  • A 1990s ad for Ariston appliances in the UK used the theme from the Game Boy version of Robocop .
                  • The Sandals resort also wants you to come to their “Island in the Sun”, as advertised through a cover version of the Weezer song of the same title that sounds almost indistinguishable from the original (besides the replacement of Rivers Cuomo with some studio singer.)
                  • Another Sandals ad uses a version of the Black Eyed Peas song “I Gotta Feeling” with lyrics from “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life”. What makes this mashup curious is that the group actually did do a song that Sampled Up the latter (“The Time (Dirty Bit)”).
                  • Another inversion is “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” which appeared in the famous “hilltop” commercial for Coca-Cola. It became so popular that a second version was recorded (minus the Coke references), and released as a popular single.
                  • Two other inversions are Japanese songs by Scatman John: “Su Su Su Super Kirei” for a hair care product and “Pripri Scat” for a brand of pudding.
                  • “Sunday Morning” sounds pretty, and its lyrics are the least defiantly-offensive on the LP The Velvet Underground & Nico. But on an LP notorious for topics including: heroin addiction, masochism, brutal street life, obsession resembling Persona (1966), domestic violence, death and fashion victims [pause for breath], a cynical song could easily appear benign, in contrast.
                  • Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut” was used in the 2005 Coke Lime commercials with the chorus mondegreened to, “You put the lime in the Coke, you nut. “
                  • It’s now being used for a Kia car commercial. Mötley Crüe even appears!
                  • British shoe company Clarks used “Birdhouse In Your Soul” by the same group as a Stealth Pun. The ad in question featured giant kids running around a city.
                  • Became Hilarious in Hindsight one Black Friday, when Rebecca Black herself tweeted, “Today is literally my day lol”.
                  • The song is also used in a 2014 Cheverolet Cruze clean diesel car commercial: The ad starts with a man coming into a gas station where they greet him by name as the song plays. Then another man comes in and the song stops. He’s got a clean diesel car so he rarely has to buy gas; nobody there knows his name.
                  • “Our House” was also used, with new lyrics, in ads for Maxwell House coffee around 2005-2006.
                  • A version of the above song had previously been used for “Pocket Rockers” a music-playing toy made by Fisher-Price. note It consisted of a music playing device and cartridges which resemble tiny 8-track cassettes that played various pop songs by famous musical acts of the day. In their original forms. By the artists themselves; and yes, this is the same Fisher-Price that’s better known for their preschool toys.
                  • Their song “Carry On” was also used in a late 2016 promo for NBC’s Today.
                  • The Halifax Building Society used the original during the ’90s .

                  “All colours bleed to red, asleep on the ocean’s bed. Drifting in empty seas, for all my days remaining. But would North be true? Why should I cry for you?”

                  To be hurt, to feel lost, to be left out in the dark.
                  To be kicked when you’re down. To feel like you’ve been pushed around.
                  To be on the edge of breaking down when no-one’s there to save you.
                  No, you don’t know what it’s like. Welcome to my life.

                  • Yes, this is the whole chorus. And yes, you can hear it all in the ad itself .

                  Big Mac Mc DLT a Quarter Pounder with some cheese Filet-O-Fish a hamburger a cheeseburger a Happy Meal etc.

                  • It was used in a radio commercial for Tysons Corner Center , a mall in Northern Virginia. This version listed names of the stores in the mall.
                  • It was also modified for use in a 1990 commercial for Royal Caribbean’s “Carnival” cruise ship.
                  • In another scenario from the same site, the singer of a New Wave Music band learns that their song “Drip Drip Drip” was going to be used in a ketchup commercial, and is so pissed that he dresses as a ketchup-covered Jesus in protest.
                  • Averted in 2018, when the original version of “Your Song” (which had been featured in a previous John Lewis Christmas ad via Ellie Goulding’s version) appeared in that year’s ad, starring Elton John.
                  • A cover of the song was used in an episode of Timon & Pumbaa, but with the lyrics changed to be about the duo’s Trademark Favorite Food of bugs.
                  • The U.S. commercial for Kirby Nightmare In Dreamland used a parody of Secret Agent Man by Johnny Rivers.
                  • The Japanese commercial for the original Kirby’s Adventure uses a parody of “Neko Funjatta” (“I Stepped on the Cat”); an example of a “repurposed nursery rhyme”.
                  • An even weirder example was when “The Song of the Count” was used to underscore this Toyota commercial that must be seen to be believed.
                  • They also did an altered cover of “Y.M.C.A.” (We’ve got costumes! Da da da da da da. ) and “Turning Japanese”. (I think I’m turning Halloween, I really think so!)
                  • Speaking of Inside Out, the How It Should Have Ended video about that movie closes on a short parody of “Don’t You Forget About Me” (the theme song to The Breakfast Club) with the lyrics changed to be about Bing Bong, which might have caused some younger generations to associate the (actual) song with him.
                    • The actual song itself was used in this State Farm ad , as well as this AT&T ad and this Walmart commercial .
                    • In the States, the song was used in a GEICO commercial where Salt ‘n’ Pepa themselves told people to push things because “it’s what they do.”
                    • Google also once used the song for a commercial for their signature search engine.
                    • And his “Thinkin’ About Your Body” was reworked to advertise Cadbury’s chocolate in the UK, with the lines “Thinkin’ about your body / Thinkin’ about your face” changed to “Thinkin’ about your choc’late / Thinkin’ about your taste”.
                    • At least one other commercial has used this theme, also in the 90s; a commercial for Nestlé Buncha Crunch.
                    • The most notable one is Butterfly by Smile.DK, which is often used for toy cellphones. It was even used for an official toy for the Korean release of Suite Pretty Cure ♪.
                    • “Kiss Kiss” by the Vengaboys is another common soundchip in unlicensed toys. Some toys feature a variant with altered lyrics about dancing at night.
                    • Three Aqua songs have been used for this purpose: “Lollipop (Candyman)” , “Barbie Girl” and “Around The World” , with the latter being used for official American sports team dinosaur toys.
                    • “My World” by Sophie (no, not that Sophie) seems to be used in a good number of unlicensed toys.
                    • Crazy Frog’s Axel F is a common choice for light-up tops.
                    • Some of these toys play Toy-Box’s “Tarzan and Jane”.

                    Suzy: Trio, Trio, I want a Trio and I want one now!
                    Not one, not two but three things in it! Chocolate, a biscuit and a toffee taste, too!

                    You’ve a tiny little blink of life to try to understand,
                    What on Earth is really going on,
                    In biology and chemistry,
                    Which made you you, and made me me,
                    But don’t ask me, I only wrote the song!

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                    Index

                    • Phone Number Jingle
                    • Advertising Tropes
                    • Top Ten Jingle
                    • Recycled: The Series
                    • Media Adaptation Tropes
                    • The Role-Playing Game
                    • Edible Bludgeon
                    • QuoteSource/Live-Action TV
                    • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist
                    • Refrain from Assuming
                    • Music Tropes
                    • Re-release the Song

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