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Music in TV Advertisements: 11 Examples of the Best and Worst

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about sensory marketing and how marketers use our five senses to attract our attention. Our sense of hearing is important, but it’s difficult to associate a particular sound or song to a specific brand or product.

Marketers and advertisers realize this, and as a result they try to find the best music to include in their commercials.

Sometimes the songs they select are a huge success and will forever be associated with that particular brand or product, like NBC’s infamous chime. Other times though, customers will mute the TV when they hear the beginning notes for an ad.

I’ve found some great examples of commercials that effectively use music, and I’ve asked others about the commercials they hate hearing. Here’s what I found!

The Best of the Best: Commercials with Effective Music

1. One of my favorite songs has been included in United Airlines’ ads for a few years now. Glenn Miller Orchestra’s rendition of George Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ may not ring any bells, but after listening to it you’ll recognize it:

Instead of having a narrator explain that actually going to a meeting is a much better way to get your point across than by holding a conference call, the illustrations and music do the talking. This particular ad is both a joy to the eyes and the ears!

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2. One of our resident video game fans, Jeff, suggested the Gears of War trailer featuring ‘Mad World’ by Michael Andrews as an awesome example. After watching it, I completely agree with him! The song itself is really powerful, but add in the images of the game and you’ve got yourself one powerful ad!

This ad is done beautifully. There’s no way watching it that you would expect it to be for a video game, it’s done in such a way that makes it seem like a movie trailer. Simple and breath-taking are the two words I’d use to describe this commercial.

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3. This next ad has mixed reviews — some love it, while others can’t stand it. I like it and still chuckle when it comes on TV, so I included it on my “best” list. It’s unique, because instead of singing Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ the actors speak the lyrics, until you get closer to the end…

Cosmopolitan Las Vegas’ tagline is: “Just the right amount of wrong.” Choosing to speak the lyrics of this song (which, I’m a fan of) instead of singing them like Queen probably intended is wrong, but quirky and creative – and somehow right, all at the same time.

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4. I can’t remember which sporting event I was watching when I first saw this next commercial, but I remember bobbing my head along to it even after it ended. It’s just catchy enough to be memorable, but not one that I’ll remember in fifteen years from now and cringe.

‘The Power is On’ by The Go! Team is a great song to feature in this ad because it does exactly what the NFL’s Play 60 is all about. Getting up and moving! This commercial wouldn’t have near the effect as it does now if a slower song was featured. Their marketing and advertising team did a great job with this!

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Honorable Mentions

5. I loved this ad Amazon did for their Kindle a few years ago. It features Annie Little’s ‘Fly Me Away’ and didn’t look like anything else that was on TV during the time. Since then, there have been similar commercials with different music, but the same look.

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6. When I first learned about the Jeep wave a few years ago, it blew my mind that something like that existed! Unwritten rules like that always fascinate me, so when I saw this commercial for Volkswagen’s Beetle I instantly wanted to go and give a high five to a VW Beetle owner. Shirley’s Ellis’ song, aptly named, ‘The Clapping Song,’ is catchy and perfect for this ad. You’d swear it was written specifically for this ad and not recorded back in 1965.

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7. Enterprise Rent-a-Car is always the first company that comes to mind when I think of rental cars. I know others exist, but their ads aren’t as clever and use my sense of hearing to attract my attention quite like Enterprise. They have several commercials that feature, ‘Send Me on My Way’ by Rusted Root and every one of them gets me humming along — that’s probably why I only think of Enterprise!

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The Best of the Worst: Commercials with Misplaced Music

8. I’m not afraid to admit it: the first few times I heard LMFAO’s ‘Party Rock Anthem,’ I sang along (and did, in fact, ‘party rock’ to it). However, this song was not only overplayed on the radio, but every single store started playing it, and then came the dancing hamsters. Kia, I love you; your cars may be stylish and affordable, but this commercial immediately makes me change the channel.

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9. Ozzy Osbourne released ‘Crazy Train’ in 1987 and the rock world was probably never the same again. Many consider it to be Ozzy’s signature song, which is why it’s interesting that it showed up in a Honda Pilot commercial being sung by a road-tripping family. Probably not what Ozzy had imagined this song twenty-five years later! The clip I’ve included is an extended version of the commercial, so enjoy!

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10. In the 1980’s, the pop singer Tiffany was immensely popular mainly because she brought music to the masses with her mall tours. People who were there probably just recently got her version of ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ out of their heads. Now they get to endure Old Navy’s version in their ad from last year.

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Not-so-Honorable Mention

11. I asked a few friends which ads they loved and hated, and someone recommended this one from Golden Grahams from the 1980s. I didn’t remember it, but after watching it just once I can see how this would get really annoying, really quick. I guess if you wanted to, you could blame it on the 80s, but that it isn’t fair to blame an entire decade for this rendition of The Turtles’ ‘Happy Together’!

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The biggest thing I noticed with the bad examples was that they were modern versions of once-popular songs. Not only do companies risk turning consumers off with their version, but the once enjoyable version as well. Who wants to be the company that ruined a beloved song?

Another annoyance I have is the number of times these ads are played. Repetition is part of marketing, and I understand that they need to be played a lot so that they capture new audiences tuning in at different times. But I hate watching a thirty-minute show and seeing the same ad four times! My advice would be to space out the number of times it’s aired and vary the channels it’s shown on, too.

Personal annoyances aside, to all the marketers and advertisers out there:

Please be creative and don’t be afraid to try something new! I can’t guarantee it won’t flop, but at least it’s one less outlet to deal with crazy ranting customers.

Do you have a favorite commercial that uses music to sell to customers? Do you find it effective? Are you angry at me for having you watch the really bad examples? Sound off below!



Amy Swanson

Amy is one of Quality Logo Products’ content developers and social media coordinators. She is a self-professed newspaper nerd and thoroughly enjoys reading business and financial news and having impromptu discussions about it. Oh yeah, she’s “one of those” people! A true Midwestern girl by nature, she loves riding her bike, photography, and the Chicago Cubs. You can also connect with Amy on

Comments

  1. Alex Brodsky

    For the sake of argument (since I love arguing) I’m actually going to differ on the Kia hamster commercial.

    LMFAO is a ridiculous band (if you can call them that), and this commercial makes no sense and it flat out silly. It does nothing to sell me a Kia car. And when it first came out, I despised it.

    However…

    The more I watch it, the more I accept it for being what it is: people who wanted to update the infamous “Hamster Dance”. And now that commercial kind of entertains me.

    • Amy Swanson

      Even though this commercial doesn’t do anything to sell you a Kia car, does it make you consider or remember the company? That could be an angle that their marketers were hoping to accomplish. Even though consumers aren’t rushing out to buy Soul’s, maybe these ads will work their way into their evoked set of brands when they do consider purchasing a new car.

      If nothing else, I’m glad it still entertains you, Alex! Thanks for the comment!! :)

    • Jen

      I agree with you Alex, it’s totally ridiculous, but I loved it from the start. It’s just so darn cute!!!

  2. Jay

    LMFAO, and their fans/anyone who illegally downloaded at least one of their songs, should all be dropped off at an El Salvadorian prison.

    NICE BLAHG!

    • Amy Swanson

      Haha, couldn’t agree with you more, Jay!

      Thank you for stopping on by and commenting :)

      • Amanda

        LOL I don’t know….this is a super awesome commercial in my opinion. ;-)

  3. Cybernetic SAM

    Ok usually music commercials irritate me. When I think of companies using legendary songs or artists to sell a product, I die a little inside I.e. The Al Green song in the Lay’s Commercial. When this commercial came out I almost lost my mind.

    The most sacrilegious example came out years ago with a VW commercial. This artist is truly one of my favorites and he is not around to give the rights to this, and it upset me so bad when I saw they used him, this legendary musician being used to send his message of poetry and love to sell…. cars!!!

    But then, there are times when I feel a song has been given justice in an ad and will give it props when I think that the particular song was justifiably used. This song when it came out and the artist behind it is another of my favorites. But this artist stood for good change and is a poet who understood the beauty in the world, and I think by those standards it was a perfectly well done example of music with advertisement (because of what the ad was for). Donovan, who is still alive, I think would have no qualms with the use of this song.

    So again I think it is fine when companies use songs, just make sure what you are selling adds up to the importance of the song. I don’t like when music I love and live by is forced on me a million times a day and degraded to the point where from then on whenever you here you think of potato chips or cars. That is not fair.
    Great Post Amy! Sorry this kind of got away from me.

    • Amy Swanson

      Phew! Better get my typing fingers ready to respond to this awesomely, amazing comment! ;)

      1) That Lay’s commerical drives me nuts too! Not just because of the reasons you gave but mainly because of the actress. Whoever opens up a bag of chips and smells it? No one because all you smell is this weird potato fart smell at first. It’s gross and unrealistic.

      2) I never saw this “Pink Moon” VW ad, but I recently saw an article about Chevy’s new ad being the next ‘Pink Moon’ ad. It sucks when a company uses something we love to hock their products to customers. I can only imagine how distraught I’d be if Dr. Seuss or his books were being used to sell cars. Oh wait, Honda already did that with their CR-V. No artist is safe :(

      3) I loved this commerical when it came out, but I completely forgot about it! Excellent addition of music being effectively used in a TV ad!! There’s an added bonus of the artist being a perfect match with the company and what they’re selling. Talk about a match made in Heaven

      4) I’m in complete agreement with your statement, “it is fine when companies use songs, just make sure what you are selling adds up to the importance of the song”. A lot of other consumers I bet would agree too!

      Thanks so much for the fantastic comment, Sam! I can definitely tell this topic is very dear to you, so thank you for giving all your awesome insight. I really, really appreciate it! :D

  4. Mandy Kilinskis

    I enjoyed that Old Navy commercial…the first 2 times I saw it. Then every time it came on I hated it more and more. The novelty was cute the first time, but Old Navy should’ve saved it as a one or two use commercial at best. The rest on the worst list deserve those spots. I haven’t been a fan of ANY of the Kia ads with the hamsters. They get old fast.

    I also don’t like the Cosmopolitan hotel commercial. But considering it’s infinitely better than the first two pieces of drivel they used as “advertising,” I let it slide.

    • Amy Swanson

      That’s the thing with the majority of these bad ads, they’re clever the first time and after that they get real old, real fast.

  5. Jen

    Amy, I love this blog, but I don’t agree with your “best of the Worst” choices. I love all these commercials. Maybe it’s because I like weird things, but I like Old Navy’s “I think we’re alone now” rendition, it’s catchy. Old Navy is really good at reinventing their advertising every couple of years, and I still find myself thinking about that old lady with the huge black glasses who talked to the dog named Magic back in 1999 (it’s really bizarre, but I’m sure you remember it too).

    I also think the Honda Pilot commercial is clever, it kinda makes me want to take a road trip with my family to the middle of the desert (haha, NOT). But I still like it anyway. And like I’ve already said, the hamsters are soooo cute, how could they not make you smile. :)

    Great post Amy, your posts are always the best!

    • Amy Swanson

      Haha, of course I remember that lady and Magic!! I don’t remember the specifics of the ads, but I do remember her, her black dress, and her accent.

      Like I said to Mandy, repetition is what kills these ads for me. I start to hum them during the day and then I forget all the lyrics except for a line or two from the song. That’s when I get annoyed.

      In regards to the hamsters, I have no beef with them, just don’t invade every commerical break of the few shows I actually watch and we’ll be fine.

      Thanks for the great comment, Jen!!

  6. Jeff Porretto

    Thanks for using my recommendation! It was so effective that I think of Gears of War every time I hear Mad World, which I think is the best case scenario advertisers are hoping for. Gears of War 2 had a similar commercial with a great song, naturally with less of an impact since it was now expected of them, but still. Even my wife was asking for the 3rd game, “What song did they use?!” very excitedly.

    Side note, she also feels that commercials are one of, if not THE best place to find new music. She googles and downloads almost every commercial song she likes now. She must not be alone, because some commercials are putting the artist and song names in the commercials now!

    Great post Amy!

    • Amy Swanson

      I’d be lying if I said I never “shazamed” a song playing in the background of an ad. My google searching skills have only improved since I’ve started searching for songs with the only information I know is based on a thirty-second clip ;)

      That’s exactly what marketers aim for when they select a song in their ad. Each and every time that song comes on, regardless of the setting, your mind goes back to that product. I have a few songs from the iPod commercials a few years ago on my iPod that when I hear I instantly think of Apple.

      So glad you enjoyed the post, Jeff! Thanks!!

  7. Amanda

    Great list here Amy! I love that Enterprise commercial. One of my favorites has always been the older Chevy Truck commercials.

    • Amy Swanson

      Thanks Amanda :)

      I totally remember these ads as a kid! An excellent addition to the list!!

  8. Rachel

    I remember seeing that Gears of War commercial before, and I agree, the use of “Mad World” is really effective. There are some really well-done video game commercials out there!

    Another commercial I like for the music is one from Lowe’s, where all the stuff in the house goes all explode-y … this isn’t the exact commercial that I’ve seen, but it has the right song in it. The tune now gets regular play on my iTunes. :)

    Fun post, Amy!

    • Amy Swanson

      I did that with this Starbucks’ commerical song (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yN9_WT9l7xo) too! I really liked it so instead of turning it up really loud when it came on TV I just bought it from iTunes. Now I can hear it anytime I want :)

      Thanks Rachel for reading and commenting! Your Lowe’s example is perfect and a song that I really enjoy too!!

  9. mike

    Music plays such a large part on our lives, and can play a critical role in the marketing campaigns of businesses as your list so nicely points out. Love your list, brought back good and bad memories :)… I would add a recent commercial to your honorable mention role, Stacy’s Pita Chips and their use of Booker T and the MG’s ‘Green Onion’ Not sure why but the darn spot just sticks in my head… As always thanks for the great write Amy.

    • Amy Swanson

      It’s funny how hearing an older song can take us straight down memory lane faster than you can say, “Hey remember…” I can see why marketers use it so much in their ads!

      Your ‘Green Onion’ example is perfect! I didn’t recognize the title, but as soon as I heard it I could instantly recall the commercial and the message they were trying to convey.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Mike! I really appreciate it :D

  10. Eric

    A couple that didn’t make the list I figured I’d mention:

    Eminem’s Chrysler commercial that ran during the Super Bowl the other year stands out to me as one of my favorites. Simple, but really effective, and more about the solidarity of the company than anything else.

    History’s cover of Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” wasn’t half bad, but I wish they actually did show historical programming on a daily basis…instead of those weird, offbeat reality shows about “pickers” and the like. Great song, but in the end, had nothing to do with the product/programming.

    And who doesn’t like United’s use of Rhapsody in Blue? You ever want to produce a dramatic montage, just have that underscoring the visuals, and BAM. Drama instantly heightened.

    Starting to wonder if I ought to do my own post, but about presidential candidates and the songs they use (or the song artists won’t let them use). Hmm.

    Great post, Amy! :)

    • Amy Swanson

      This was a fun post to research and write, if you’d like to do a part 2 I’d be more than willing to pass the baton on ;)

      Your two examples are great ones to include! Eminem has a way of controlling attention, especially when there’s a visual included too. His lyrics are powerful, but add in images too. You have a recipe for recognition.

      The History Channel one I never saw, so that one was new to me. I don’t really know why they chose this song. Was it because the song is older… like our history. Or because of the lyrics? Hmmm….

      The truth needs to come out, I intentionally wrote this blog to feature ‘Rhapsody in Blue’. I love this song so much!! It was my phone’s ringtone for the longest time.

      Thanks so much for adding to the list! And seriously, Eric the second parter is all yours if you’d like it :)

  11. Jenna Markowski

    I’m guilty of kind of liking those crazy dancing hamsters..but other than that I agree with the majority of your choices! I really like that Gears of War ad coupled with “Mad World.” Another song in an advertisement that I really like is this Target commercial: http://youtu.be/4DVLnrZEfH8. I love the folksy, but modernized version of this song — even if the song is about plucking a lark.

    This was a very fun post, Amy! Nice work! :)

  12. Juliette

    Love this post! And I feel the need to add one of my favorites:

    Back in my first year of college (I have now officially dated myself with this mention) there was a VW commercial with a song that folks either really loved or really loathed.

    Who remembers “Da Da Da”? http://youtu.be/5_s5-R_JE4c

    For the record, I went out and bought that group’s album that year. I still own it.

    • Juliette

      I also admit that every time that song comes up on my ipod on shuffle I feel the need to pick up random furniture from the side of the road…

      • Amy Swanson

        Haha, a great addition to include! Thanks Juliette!! I love when songs take us back to a certain time in our lives. I still have the songs I listened to in high school and freshmen year of college on my iPod and they instantly take me back to locker filled hallways and bad cafeteria food :P

        Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!!

  13. James Flynn

    “Crazy Train” was released in 1980. And that’s a horrible commercial because that version is horrible.

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