Top Three Tunes Made Famous By Adverts

Picture of a pint of Guinness, Text overlay - 'top three tunes made famous by adverts'

Phat Planet, a.k.a. ‘the song from that Guinness advert with the horses’

The advert makers can sometimes find ways to communicate a piece of music more effectively than the musicians themselves. Heresy! But it’s true. The musicians (and the people they employ to make their videos) are trying to sell themselves, a lot of the time. They’ve often got their own set of marketers, trying to align them with one demographic or another. They may have a need to represent themselves to the world through their lyrics.

The advertiser is unencumbered by any of this wider context. They just focus on the feelings evoked by the music, and try to create the best combination of sound and visual. The artist’s ego is sacrificed to the audio-visual experience.

The advertiser is also free to take liberties with the music, in ways that the musician would never dream of.

“We just want the intro.”


“Yeah, we’re going to cut the song off, right before the beat kicks in.”

“No! How could you? What’s wrong with you?”

“Listen Leftfield, we’ve got waves, horses, and the ominous rumbling intro from your song. Here’s your money. Any questions?”

*staggers off, mumbling and wiping tears on a bank statement*

The Joker, a.k.a. ‘Levi’s advert with the bike in the lift

Nowadays, it’s much easier to take a great song from a famous artist, and strap it to your ad campaign. That’s because musicians don’t get paid properly anymore.

But for a few decades there, musicians didn’t have to play like that. Letting your music get used in adverts was ‘selling out’.  It meant you were working for the man, man.

Obviously, this moral high ground was reserved for the big names. But it did make things trickier for ‘the man’. Either he could take advantage of superstars who’d made unwise contractual choices (Marvin Gaye, ‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’) or shared the view of their output as product (James Brown, Sex Machine).

Or he could start crate digging for great songs that just needed the light of day. Rare grooves from artists with less of a rep to protect. Steve Miller had enjoyed huge success on his native US soil, but was unknown to British audiences before this celebrated Levi’s campaign of ’86 scored him his first UK No.1.

Feist at Coachella, licensed under CC by 2.0

Feist – ‘1,2,3,4’ a.k.a. ‘iPod Nano ad/awesome Sesame St counting song

‘1,2,3,4’ is childlike. Like ‘Little Boxes’, or the bit in Big where Tom Hanks plays the foot piano. Written for Fiest by Australian songwriter Sally Seltmann, it’s not a song that would have seared itself into your memory, had it not been for the Apple advert that put it front and centre.

The advert is clever, even by Apple’s standards. Having mercifully abandoned U2 as their advert soundtrack of choice (about sixteen years too late, but lots of people were needlessly loyal to Bono and Reg’s gang, long after their sell-by date), the wide-eyed simplicity of ‘1,2,3,4’ provided a much gentler, sweeter appeal to the hearts and wallets of their audience, with the song’s hook right up in front.

Things get really clever, though, when you consider what’s actually on-screen in this advert. We see the product, in a rainbow of available colours. We see Fiest’s promotional video for the song, displayed on the product.

It’s a nice get-out for Feist. No-one’s splicing her song with any unrelated imagery. They’re showing her video. It’s almost an advert for Feist.

And Apple align themselves with the artist, this way. ‘Look at how much we love music, too,’ it says. ‘We respect Fiest so much, we use her video in our video’. Meanwhile, you’re still just staring at their product.

 ‘Green Honker, Sesame Street’ | Santiago Otero/Flickr | Licensed under CC by 2.0

Of course, both the song and the product were bulldozed into submission the following year by the pop-cultural juggernaut that is Sesame St.

Feist’s monster-themed reworking of the song for her appearance on the show has proved to be the definitive version, clocking up a whopping 898 million views on Youtube, in comparison to the original video’s perfectly acceptable 15 million or so.

Kenny Loggins’s attempt to drag the song’s dismembered corpse into the danger zone in 2009 appears to have been withdrawn from circulation. We live in hope.

Any advert bangers that should have gotten a mention here? Drop a comment, and I can tell you why you’re wrong.

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