Monday, February 26, 2007


Another week of Heroes, another random pop-culture observation. I was zoning out, checkin' out Facebook and reading about Bayesian networks (yeehaw!), when I heard a familiar sounding riff emanating from my TV. It was "I Think I Need a New Heart", by the Magnetic Fields, a thoroughly awesome song off an amazing album (69 Love Songs, if'n you didn't know). I looked up to figure out what august product was deserving of so stellar a song. After a few moments of random text blurbs and shots of dogs, it became clear that this was a commercial for a dog-food commercial. That's right, a song all about the waning of love and the death of passion in a relationship has been appropriated to promote the diffusion of tasty doggy snacks.

I mean, I'm not bothered by music I like being used in commercials -- I'm happy that people at a soulless advertising agency have decent taste in music, and I'm not going to begrudge Stephin Merritt and friends the chance to make some money spreading decent music to the world. I was just confused, though. The lyrics of the song aren't at all relevant to dogs, or even food (if they'd used "Fido, Your Leash Is Too Long", I might understand). Not even that, but the ad doesn't even use the lyrics -- the only thing it really makes use of is the (admittedly catchy) riff that opens up the song.

I would think it'd be significantly cheaper to just hire some random composer dude to write something for the ad than to pay for an existing, reasonably-well-known pop song. But, as I write these sentences, I realize that the song has to be much less well-known than I think (quick poll -- have you heard of it?), and it's probably more expensive to hire a commissioned musician than I think. Plus, there's the same effect that you have with obscure jokes -- most people don't enjoy it, but there's the one person who gets the joke (or knows the song) and really, really loves it. Something like this, perhaps. So maybe they're banking on the few 20-something hipster types who own little yappy dogs watching the ad and totally changing their product loyalties, just like that. It's bound to have happened at least once, right?


  1. Ok-
    If some hypothetical record exec came up to us and said that he wanted to use "Pac-Man's Revenge" in a Toyota commercial, my answer would be "Hell yeah!" Because, well, I like money. I hate to say it, but the shit makes me happy, no matter what one says about "artistic integrity." Yeah, I'm all jaded and cynical like that.
    (Incidentally, that xkcd comic was aweomse- I must start reading that)
    Anyhow- I imagine that it costs just as much to buy some limited television rights to a song as it is to hire a composer for a commercial. Even random background music still costs man-hours, and that's something that they don't have to pay for if they just buy something that's kinda-sorta well known. And, they got your attention, didn't they? You're thinking about the product, talking about it, blogging about it, right? They win. The dog food people win. The ad is in your head, and you'll probabl recognize the product. With that (probably affordable) purchase of "I Think I Need a New Heart," they have done their job perfectly.
    Isn't that sort of dispiriting? You know what's even worse? There's a Nissan ad out there featuring "Too Drunk to Fuck" by the Dead Kennedys. The DKs are in an ad. The Dead fucking Kennedys. Everything ends up sold out, spat out, and reprocessed.
    But, just because the (proverbial) Man might get to something, that doesn't make that something bad. The Big Chill didn't spoil sixties music, and dog food commercials aren't going to destroy indie rock.

  2. I doubt Mr. Ad Guy would count me as a success, since I don't remember the product name at all. :-) But yeah, that was sorta my point with the joke analogy at the end -- it'll be innocuous for the most part, but then there'll be the one guy like me who's actually heard the damn song before and will proceed to write about it on his damn blog and spread the word of miracle wonder dog food substance to the adulating masses (hi, adulating masses!).

    Re: selling Pac-Man's revenge to an ad. Of course we would sell it. And I wouldn't feel the tiniest tinge of guilt. 'Cause "selling out" is an annoying meme perpetuated by punk-rock snobs who're pissed off that their favorite crappy little band isn't popular enough to make it onto TV. If Bob Dylan can make Victoria's Secret commercials, The Magnetic Fields can most certainly peddle pet products.

    Glad you like XKCD. Truly, its glory shines down about us in splendor.

  3. Funny story about Bob Dylan-

    Supposedly he was once asked if he'd ever let his any of his songs get used in an ad, and he said "only if it were an ad for ladie's underwear." Apparently, some ad guy took him up on that, and his folksy ways now sell silken vagina covers.

    You know, I feel like our collection of blogs has turned into this sort of private IM/forum thing where we vent various opinons about random stuff. Which is nice. If you like XKCD, I think you'd also like Toothpaste For Dinner. It is made out of awesome and alloyed with coolness.

  4. Two recommendations for Toothpaste for Dinner based on this single blog post. Looks like I have to (re-) check it out.

  5. there is a school of thought of teaching EFL to kids that if you teach everything in catchy little riffs, they don't have to study because they'll be humming the tune with the key point of the lesson to themselves all week. (this is marketed as 'genki English' if you are curious)

    but the basis is that we are all more inclined to remember something if it is catchy. and I bet you wouldn't have even looked up at the ad if you didn't recognize the tune.

    however, as per you poll, I have heard of neither.

  6. If you've never heard the Magnetic Fields, Kori, you really owe it to yourself to give them a listen. You will not be disappointed. Unless your musical taste diverges significantly from mine, in which case, you will be disappointed.