I watch television and, unlike my husband who loves the Mute button, I often listen to the commercials. Thus I have noticed a recent trend in music for commercials and it’s retro rock. Using rock music in commercials is not new; advertisers have been doing it for decades. Advertisers have always liked oldies rock as sound tracks for their ads.
Five Retro Rock Commercials
- Toyota Corolla: “You Don’t Own Me” — Lesley Gore first sang this song, written by John Madara and David White, in 1963. You can hear it on the 60-second ad plus Lesley Gore’s original version here.
The commercial, by Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles, appeals to the Millennial sense of freedom and individuality but it carefully deletes an important verse. These original lyrics tell us the song was sung by an angry girl to a jealous and controlling boyfriend:
“You don’t own me
I’m not just one of your many toys
You don’t own me
Don’t say I can’t go with other boys
And don’t tell me what to do
Don’t tell me what to say
And please, when I go out with you
Don’t put me on display ’cause
You don’t own me.”
Those lyrics don’t quite fit with the liberation theme of the commercial, of course, but they also highlight the fact that little has changed in the 53 years since those words first issued from transistor radios. Back then we knew less about the dangers of jealous and controlling males than we do now. We certainly didn’t think of this as an early feminist song.
- Apple: I Will Follow You” — This “7 Balloons” commercial for the iPhone by TBWA/Media Arts Lab, Los Angeles puts a new spin on the original. Frank Pourcei and Paul Mauriat first wrote and recorded the song as an instrumental, “I Will Follow You,” in 1961 but it became a popular tune in 1963 when Little Peggy March covered it with an altered title and English lyrics by Norman Gimbel.
“I Will Follow Him,” was sung by a lovesick girl who pledges to go wherever her boyfriend goes and this second verse states her dedication:
“I must follow him,
Ever since he touched my hand I knew
That near him I always must be
And nothing can keep him from me
He is my destiny”
You can hear the original recording on YouTube. Teenage girls swooned but the lyrics probably made teenage boys head for the hills. Obviously, the Apple commercial has a different perspective on this sappy tale. Whether people take their iPhone or the iPhone takes them can be a subject for discussion. One can’t deny the dedication to personal technology, however.
Sleep Number Mattress: “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” This commercial shows a couple stalking through the jungle of their house before slipping into bed. There they both roar with snores when they fall asleep until the Sleep Number bed quiets the roar. “Take the roar out of snore” is a cute tagline and the ad, by Peterson Mila Hooks ad agency, has a light-hearted tone. This song never had many lyrics but Sleep Number has made the best of the few there are.
Also known as “Wimoweh,” TLST was originally written in Zulu and recorded in 1939 by Solomon Linda with the Evening Birds under the title “Mbube.” The Tokens, a doo-wop group, made the English-language adaptation a number one hit in the United States in 1961. I confess to singling along with this version and you can listen to it on YouTube.
- Walmart: “Dream On” Aerosmith recorded this song in 1973. You can see the commercial on iSpot.TV. Created by Saatchi & Saatchi New York, it shows a blue-collar American family going about their lives, working at manufacturing jobs, and fulfilling the American dream. It highlights Walmart’s commitment to American manufacturing.
“Sing with me, sing for the years
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me, just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away
Dream on, dream on, dream until your dream comes true.”
While I fully support Walmart’s decision to source an additional $250 billion in products made, assembled or grown in the U.S. I will wait to see if it actually happens before I start shopping at Walmart.
Three Reasons for Retro Rock
Why are we hearing more retro rock tunes on TV these days? Well, I can think of a few reasons:
- The songs are cheap. While these rock tunes have not yet entered the public domain, they also aren’t in frequent demand. Buying the rights to a popular new song costs a lot of money while re-recording an old rock tune sets a company back a lot less.
- The creatives are reliving their childhoods. This seems less likely. Young people usually comprise the creative teams in ad agencies. So unless they heard these songs on oldies stations while Mom drove them to elementary school, they would not come immediately to mind.
- The old songs are catchier. As a certified Boomer, I tend to like this theory. The music of our adolescence resonates for every generation. Current music sounds tinny and mechanical to me. The less said about the lyrics the better. I can’t imagine rap music aficionados letting their own kids listen to their version of the oldies when little kids in car seats can hear it.
Neither Ad Age nor AdWeek has covered this retro rock trend in commercials so I don’t have a real “feet on the street” perspective. But I’m listening with enjoyment for the next oldies commercial sound track.