Using Songs In Advertisements The Right Way

The Black Keys’ suing Pizza Hut for using a rendition of their song “Gold on the Ceiling” to advertise their pizza is not the first time an artist has voiced distaste over their song’s use in a commercial and definitely it won’t be the last. When used in the right time and context, a song can make the advertisement infinitely more effective and enjoyable. It becomes a mutual win for both the artist recording the song and the product being advertised. When the song is mishandled by the agency, on the other hand, the ad becomes an unwanted houseguest for both the artist and the fans.

The Right Way

Chevy Sonic: “We Are Young” by Fun.

Back in February, this ad during the Super Bowl brought an unknown indie band into mainstream lore and skyrocketed their single to the number one for six weeks in a row. The anthemic chorus matches perfectly with the chilling images of the Chevy Sonic skydiving, doing backflips, and bungee jumping. The lyrics of the song go hand-in-hand with the theme of the advertisement and the car’s brand image. This ad was a win-win for everyone involved.


Lincoln Cars: “Get A Move On” by Mr. Scruff

The infectious yet elegant, jazzy sounds of this track complement the classy branding that Lincoln is known for. The moving doors, folding seats and mirrors, are the icing on the cake for this slick advertisement. This campaign had thousands calling Lincoln’s 800 number to ask what the song was. One of the car jingles that will have you humming long after the commercial is over.

The Wrong Way

“This is 40” Trailer: “We Are Young” by Fun.

It’s funny how the same song used in one advertisement can make an adverse effect on another ad. But that’s where advertising expertise is put to the test. “We Are Young” actually distracts from what’s going on in the trailer and makes for a sloppy advertisement. First, by the time this trailer was released, radio and pretty much all mainstream culture had overplayed the song to the extent that the song had wore out its welcome. The marketing department at Universal had missed the boat. Also, though the song may fit the theme of the movie, it does not correlate with what goes on in the trailer. The trailer moves at a glacial pace, which contrasts from the grandiose nature of the song. What we get is a very awkward looking preview.

Royal Caribbean’s: “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop

In a classic example of an inadvertently inappropriate song choice for a commercial, “Lust for Life” is set as a backdrop for images of people rafting, sledding, and rock climbing. Seems like a good fit…until you look at the original lyrics, which talk about “liquor and drugs” and the “flesh machine.” Yeah, that’s definitely what Royal Caribbean wants to be associated with. The poor choice of music in this ad was even the subject to an Onion article parody. It may even get a younger generation to reinterpret the classic song, thus distorting its original message. A harsh reminder that ad agencies should do their research.

The use of music has become ubiquitous in commercials that advertisers often forget the significance of matching the lyrics of the song to the advertiser’s message and not overplaying a song (“How You Like Me Now” by The Heavy also comes to mind.) Just like the soundtrack to a movie, the song choices set the tone of the commercial, in which case often make or break an ad’s effectiveness.