Music can be a pretty powerful thing. Who amongst us hasn’t bawled like a baby when Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” comes on? How many can resist the first few chords of “Dust in the Wind?” There’s a reason we all have earbuds and speakers at the ready!
A song can create powerful associations with an object, memory, or person, It’s the same reason why we remember the song of our first slow dance and the exact tune we belted when we were forced to do karaoke on our 21st birthday. Music is also impactful when it comes to advertising. The right song in a commercial can make you forever remember and associate with a brand.
What companies played the right tracks? Who missed a few notes? Let’s look at the best and worst uses of music in TV ads!
Let’s start at the top with the best of the best. These pairings prove the crazy power the right song can have when it comes to advertising. Here are the hits you’ll want to play on repeat and add to your personal soundtrack.
- 1. Jet & Apple
- 2. Sarah McLachlan & ASPCA
- 3. Haley Rainhart & Extra Gum
- 4. Bob Seger & Chevrolet
- 5. Snoop Dogg & Sun Drop
- 6. Jack Wood & Bacardi
- 7. Europe & Geico
- 8. Phil Collins & Cadbury
- 9. Michael Andrews, Gary Jules, & Gears of War
- 10. Little & Ashley & Amazon Kindle
1) Jet & Apple
Back before we could play music on our phones, we all relied on our handy iPods. Jet’s “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” was one of the may hit songs shadow people grooved to in the classic iPod ads. The song was upbeat enough to make you feel like dancing… and run out to buy your own iPod.
2) Sarah McLachlan & ASPCA
The use of music is what’s best about these ads, not the subject matter. You can’t deny the power of Sarah McLachlan’s “In The Arms Of The Angel.” The song evokes emotion, sends a powerful message, and demands a stop to animal cruelty. It also makes you really want to adopt a puppy, like now.
3) Haley Reinhart & Extra Gum
Ah, young love! Extra Gum captured the feeling of butterflies so beautifully with Haley Reinhart’s cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” The 2015 ad gives us emotional storytelling and the sweet, minty taste of youth – an innocent time when we’d ask for gum in the hallways and skip class to make-out under the bleachers.
4) Bob Seger & Chevrolet
Chevrolet wants you to know their trucks are rugged and tough. It only made sense to bring on a raspy-voiced rockstar like Bob Seger for their commercials. His classic hit “Like a Rock” is now associated with the brand, and good thing… Could you imagine if they used “I’m Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred instead? Yikes.
5) Snoop Dogg & Sun Drop
Before he was in the kitchen with Martha Stewart, Snoop was all over the radio with “Drop It Like It’s Hot.” Sun Drop’s ad shows that music can also provide humor, especially when your brand name and the song title share a key word.
6) Jack Wood & Bacardi
Bacardi took the house party on-the-go in their 2015 ad. Jack Wood’s “Born to Wander” is heard playing in the background. The tune, which didn’t get a lot of radio play when it was recorded in 1966, is the perfect road trip party anthem.
7) Europe & Geico
Geico is known for their funny, memorable ads. They knocked it out of the park yet again in 2015. The stadium anthem, “The Final Countdown,” is played ironically as a man waits for his microwave burrito. Europe even made a cameo in the commercial.
8) Phil Collins & Cadbury
The drum in “In the Air Tonight” is one of the most iconic of all time. It’s used to its full potential in Cadbury’s ad, which shows a gorilla deeply feeling the music as he waits to pound out the solo. Sure, it has nothing to do with chocolate, but it shows that with a great song, you don’t really have to make a lot of sense.
9) Michael Andrews, Gary Jules, & Gears of War
This ad is often regarded as one of the best video game commercials of all time. The song “Mad World,” which was originally recorded for the Donnie Darko soundtrack, is the perfect pairing for the bleak, apocalyptic setting. It even went on to push the song to #1 on iTunes at the time.
10) Little & Ashley & Amazon Kindle
To advertise their new ebook, Amazon used indie band Little & Ashley’s song “Fly Me Away.” The end result is a quirky, visually-stunning ad with a lot of charm that does a lot to both hype up Amazon’s product and bring attention to the lesser-known music duo.
Now it’s on to the worst! While the songs themselves are great, they get ruined by their use in lackluster ads. If these horrible music/brand pairings prove anything, it’s that even big name companies have missteps from time to time.
- 1. The Rolling Stones & Pepsi
- 2. Johnny Cash & Preparation H
- 3. Jane’s Addiction & Jack Daniels
- 4. The Zoombies & Tampax
- 5. Bill Withers & Pringles
- 6. Frank Sinatra & Gatorade
- 7. Nine Inch Nails & Levi’s Jeans
- 8. Iggy Pop & Royal Caribbean
- 9. The Allman Brothers & Geico
- 10. Lou Bega & New York Life Insurance
1) The Rolling Stones & Pepsi
Everything about this commercial is extremely annoying, most notably, the buzzing bug with the creepy Mick Jagger mouth. When it sings The Rolling Stone’s “Brown Sugar,” you immediately want to turn the volume way down. Someone grab a flyswatter!
2) Johnny Cash & Preparation H
The Man in Black would never have wanted his work used this way. Now there’s no way to disassociate Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” with painful hemorrhoids. Take this as an example of how not every commercial benefits from a song.
3) Jane’s Addiction & Jack Daniels
It sometimes pays to know the backstory of a song before you use it in a commercial. Jack Daniels learned that the hard way when they chose “Jane Says” by Jane’s Addiction, a song about addiction, for their commercial. Even if it’s not intentional, it comes across as insensitive.
4) The Zombies & Tampax
For whatever reason, Tampax thought it was important for people to know they were around during the 60s hippie revolution. This fact is punctuated by the classic psychedelic tune, “The Time of the Season” by the Zombies. The song is weirdly out of place, as is the overall message.
5) Bill Withers & Pringles
Just because the Pringles can has a face, doesn’t mean it should open its mouth and sing. This is especially true if it’s going to belt out a classic like “Use Me” by Bill Withers. If your ad is going to destroy a good song, and make people think of the Pringles guy instead of Bill Withers, it’s not worth the brand boost.
6) Frank Sinatra & Gatorade
There’s something about an athlete singing his swan song that’s completely depressing. Frank Sinatra’s crooning voice on “My Way” is a sad reminder that Derek Jeter’s game-changing career is coming to an end. He might not need that sip of Gatorade anymore, so it’s weird for the sports drink to advertise an athlete coming out of his prime.
7) Nine Inch Nails & Levi’s Jeans
Sorry, but Levi’s is way too vanilla of a brand to use Nine Inch Nails in their commercials. There’s nothing edgy about a good pair of Levi’s, which is what makes “The Art of Self Destruction,” and the gritty commercial that goes with it, way too weird for comfort.
8) Iggy Pop & Royal Caribbean
Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” is an ode to doing drugs. What’s it doing in a commercial about going on a vacation? There are even a bunch of kids in the thing! This is proof that you really need to read the lyrics before choosing a song for your ad.
9) The Allman Brothers & Geico
Geico made the best list, but this just goes to show even awesome brands have a misstep once in a while. The company was promoting their motorcycle insurance using the song “Midnight Rider,” which was recorded by two brothers who were both tragically killed in motorcycle crashes. It’s accidentally insensitive and shows the importance of doing your research.
10) Lou Bega & New York Life Insurance
This TV spot uses Lou Bega as a spokesperson. Why? My guess is he had nothing better to do after topping the charts with “Mambo No. 5” in 1999. Tip: It’s never a good idea to use a celebrity very few people will recognize to help sell your product or service.
According to the Stanford University School of Medicine, music engages the areas of the brain involved in paying attention. Love the songs or hate them, using music is a surefire way to get the audience to notice your ad.
Of course, it could be for all the wrong reasons. If you sell a product that’s modern, it makes sense to pair it with a current hit. However, if your product is inherently awkward, leave music out of your ad. We’re looking at you Viagra commercial that used “Viva Las Vegas” by Elvis Presley and replaced it with “Viva Viagra.” Come on now, don’t do that to the King.
The Bottom Line
Be mindful when using music in your ads, show respect to the artists, and most importantly, make sure your message makes sense. After all, if your commercial is iconic enough, it may become a cultural phenomenon and can even lead to custom promotional items that you use to advertise your business even further.
Take for instance the Mr. Owl lunch boxes from the 80’s, or the iPod commercial t-shirts that you could find at stores in the early 2000’s. Commercials can be extremely impactful, and the right music can make all the difference!