It's common for musicians of all ages to sell their music to advertisers. Beck and the Who have done it, as have Feist and the Rolling Stones. It's not just a crass sellout anymore, but rather crass marketing strategy: ads get heard more often than songs on radio stations, so getting into a commercial is just one of a menu of options that include inclusion in the soundtrack of a movie, or appearing in a teen drama on TV.
I don't begrudge artists a penny; they're allowed to make as much money for as long as they possibly can, and I'm not a believer in some invisible line dividing artists who will or won't starve for their art.
I just wonder if using songs in ads does any good.
Consider Ford, which has recently repurposed at least two oldies in hopes of selling its oldie (er, luxury) Lincoln MKZ. One spot uses David Bowie's "Space Oddity," which was originally released in 1969. The second features Peter Schilling's 1983 "Major Tom (Coming Home)."
These choices are filters, of course: you need to be either 1) old enough to remember them, or 2) culturally aware enough to recognize them. Either way, that litmus test means you probably fit into some generic demographic Lincoln has decided might be most receptive to the MKZ styling, attributes, or brand whatever.
I think there are two problems with the execution:
First, they don't use the originals, but rather godawful remakes by artists who weren't likely even alive when the songs were first released. The Schilling song is sung by a band called Shiny Toy Guns, which pretty much follows the original save for using a woman to sing the lead. As for the Bowie spot, well, somebody named Cat Power sings it as if she's sitting in some doctor's office waiting room (and in some pain). To say that it's horrible would be a compliment, at least to this old fogey's ears.
Why not use the originals? The associative value of the music gets diluted, if not lost outright, when the shock of recognition is followed by the realization that the songs are ersatz. Perhaps they cost too much to use, or were unavailable. Or maybe it was a conscious choice to somehow update the songs, which leads me to my second issue: why do it at all?
The spots effectively ask a question that they don't answer: what makes a Lincoln different from, say, a Cadillac, or a Mercedes, Jaguar, or Lexus? A vehicle purchase consists of a product and a service. By definition, both are unique and proprietary to each brand, even if they're similarly intended. It's a damned difficult creative challenge to communicate how one ergonomically-styled interior is better than another, or why the repair plan for one warranty soars above other choices.
But that's the real challenge for branding, right?
I know there’s a rationale that the image ads can only impart a feeling, or make some broad association, and that the real selling happens in the showroom. But if that's the case, why wouldn't Ford use the reach (and medium) of the spots to provide compelling, relevant and, yes, wonderfully creative and sexy reasons to go to a dealership (or to the web site)?
Telling consumers that it has bought some old songs doesn't really us anything except that getting us to actually do something might be too challenging for their brand marketers to address.
We may be old, but we're not stupid. Oh, and you young whipper-snappers play your music too loud!