Should Rock Music Be Used In Advertising?

The advertisement for the new VW Passat features a hapless businessman playing air drums along to the Rush classic "Fly By Night".

Ultimate Guitar

The advertisement for the new VW Passat features a hapless businessman playing air drums along to the Rush classic "Fly By Night" while his car is stopped at traffic lights. Let's face it, it's a situation that we've all found ourselves in at one point or another (the drum fills in Iron Maiden's "Run To The Hills" make for a particularly good in-car air drumming session in Ultimate-Guitar's experience) and the commercial is both funny and relatable to many a rock fan. However, there's always something disconcerting about seeing one of your favorite songs used to advertise a product that has nothing to do with rock music.

And the use of rock music in advertisements is becoming increasingly common. As a recent article on ABC News notes:

"Gone are the days when rebellious musicians would shake their heads and laugh in scorn at the idea of selling their tunes to ad men. Songs are being licensed in such great numbers that if you close your eyes while channel surfing on TV, it might sound more like scanning the dial of a radio station."

With the uncertainty of the music market in the current day and age, it's unsurprising the artists are increasingly turning to the world of advertising as stream of revenue, and the question remains as to whether selling music to advertisements these days could be considered selling out. Scott Donaton, the editor of Advertising Age magazine, doesn't see the difference between a band selling their music to an advert and having a corporate sponsor on their tour:

"Advertising is entertainment, just like music is entertainment. There's nothing about selling records that isn't a commercial process already, and I think people realize that. What's the difference between selling a song toward an ad [and] having a corporate sponsor of a tour?"

But what do you, the faithful Ultimate-Guitar readers, think about all this?

Should bands license their music to commercials? What are the best and worst examples of bands' music being used in advertisements that you have ever seen?

And, if you were given the chance, would you sell one of your songs to the ad man in exchange for a fat pay check?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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92 comments sorted by best / new / date

    There are instances where it is really beneficial for a band's career. For example, The Heavy, who are better than 95% of current bands, didn't get any exposure until "How You Like Me Now?" was used in every commercial ever. I'm not that big a fan of seeing classics like Rush and Led Zeppelin in ads.
    OH MY GOD, thank you for this comment. I had no idea who did that song or even what the name was (it's surprising how many songs there are whose titles have nothing to do with the song). Many thanks bestowed upon you, fine sir.
    I think the worst case of licensing out a song for an ad would be the time I seen the commercial with Jesse J's song "Its not about the money, money, money " in a Monopoly commercial, and they changed the lyrics to "its all about the money, money, money etc. " Either she clearly didn't give two single ****s about the message of that song, or she got ****ed over by her label who probably wrote the song for her and retained licensing rights when she went under contract.
    If musicians who have worked hard their entire lives can make some extra money from licensing their songs for advertisements, more power to them
    Von II
    "Advertising is entertainment" No it's not. It's a business strategy to sell more products or services.
    This is true, but that doesn't make it not entertainment. Think about the super bowl.
    Von II
    Never seen it. Also, all that advertising is still there to sell more.
    Epi g-310
    The Superbowl is one of the, if not the most highly viewed program in America, and most likely in the world, just by the sheer force of the number of Americans that watch it. I, for one, have little to no interest in football as an American, but I still watch it because a lot of the time, the ads are really entertaining, and because people tend to make nachos at Superbowl parties. You get the point though. Advertising can be used for entertainment. Good advertising will always entertain the viewer, that's how they get the message to stick in your head.
    As long as the band is alright with it, then I could care less if their music is used in a commercial.
    Personally doesnt bother me one bit. What does get my goat are the ads like the one Iggy Pop was in - it didnt fit, his music wasnt used (I dont thnik), and it came across as exploitative. Same with those doc Martin ads a few years back that I think were eventually dropped. I suppose its the difference between the music and the celebrity attached to it. Use the music because its good and enjoyable, but dont exploit the artist for some trend setting image.
    I feel like there should be a rule stating that the song used in a commercial needs to be credited, like in old music videos. Just put a "song title, artist, album" thing in the corner for ten-fifteen seconds, at least.
    All cool as long as the band is fine with it, mainly because it means I won't be seeing Nirvana on any ads anytime soon!
    i learned about an awesome band through a ringtone. it was BEER!!! and the name of the file was Psychostick. Psychostick is bad-ass.
    I see nothing wrong here. It widens the audience for the artist, and it helps on discovering new tunes. Can't tell you how many tiems I've come across new music due to ads.
    I don't know what you guys think but I kind of get disappointed when people only know songs because of publicity. And they never know who's the artist. Also I think it's a very sad when people know by heart the slogans of publicity from whatever product. And they feel proud singing it.
    link no1
    "Advertising is entertainment, just like music is entertainment." Yea sure, I'm looking forward to seeing the new Santander advert (it's on my calendar) and I already have a house party planned for the first viewing of the new Toilet Duck commercial.
    Man, that sounds like an epic night. Toilet Duck is the sh!t. (Pun intended)
    this is insanely stupid. the music that is being used in the ads has already been funded and packaged by the record company as a product for sale, so what could be wrong with using it to promote another product? most rock music hasn't been about corporate rebellion for a long long time. if the artist doesn't care then we shouldn't care.
    There's only one answer:
    lol, just found a quote from the video, that will make it easier for some people I guess. "I'm sure you have had the experience of watching television and snapping to attention when you hear a familiar song by one of your favorite small of fame bands as the backdrop for an automobile commercial. Perhaps you have thought to yourself, "That is so ****ing weak, what a bunch of sellouts. I hate their guts!" I get letters from people expressing their outrage that they heard the music of The Stooges, The Ramones, The Buzzcocks, or The Fall in an ad and I understand their anger and sense of loss as they figure yet another one of their well-kept secrets has just become part of the corporate structure and the band is nothing more than the lap dogs of the man, the very man they were supposed to be sticking it to in every waking moment. These bands are not being co-opted or selling out at all. Selling out is when you make the record you are told to make instead of the one you want to make. I wonder if it ever occurred to these people that the reason the music of these interesting and alternative bands is being recruited is because their fans are now the ones calling the shots. In other words, we have arrived! Of course the ad is trying to sell you something and by using a band you like, attempting to gain your confidence by exploiting the band's integrity for a commercial end. So what? You're not a ****in' moron are ya? You see through that, don't ya? What would you rather hear, Iggy and The Teddybears doing "I'm A Punk Rocker" in a car ad or enduring some generic background music? I thought so. Do you have any idea what some of these bands went through to make that music? The fact that there might be some money for them all these years later is great. You think that paycheck is in any way a slight to their integrity? Are you ****ing kidding me? Pay them. Pay them double. Pay them now. It's about ****in' time."
    I quoted this video on reddit once and got like a 1000 up votes. Now, if only my imaginary internet points were worth something.
    If the songwriter owns their own publishing, then they can do whatever they want and it doesn't bother me. If they want their masterpiece used to sell a cadillac or dog food then whatever... The situation that makes me sick is when someone other than the songwriter owns the publishing (Michael Jackson bought Northern Songs Ltd and his estate owns over 200 Beatles songs) and sells them to the highest bidder for commercial use. It also makes me mad when some rock song is rerecorded for a commercial so they don't have to pay the original musicians the performance royalty.
    Phil collins in the air tonight, cadbury used it, its the best use of a rock song for advertising.
    I sat here for a while trying to write a reasoned and balanced comment expressing my thoughts on the issue but Bill Hicks said it better with just 3 words: "Suck Satan's Cock!"
    I think it comes down to the artist, a company cant just use the music without the permission of the artist so they have to give it the yay or nay. I think it's fine, one of the best commercials to this day that is still stuck in my head in the Cadillac commercial where they used Led Zeppelin's Rock and Roll in one of their ads. I think it was run in the fall of 2001 or 2002 I know I was still in school so just shy of 10 years ago, pretty powerful to keep an ad in my head that long, and its all because of one song. Though it never sold me on buying a Cadillac!
    I loved it when Maiden's 'Phantom of the Opera' was used in a Lucozade commercial in the 80's. I remember the kids at school who loved new romantic stuff, but hated metal, yet loved that advert. They didn't like it when I pointed out that it was a Maiden song!
    I love the Crazy Train in the mini-van commercial. Looks like my wife and I with the kids in the car.
    Joshua Garcia
    That commercial is soo annoying. No offense, but if listening to children making a whole bunch of jungle noises and shaking empty soda cups while singing simutaneously to the nothing playing on the radio reminds you of your family, then you must drive through a living hell.
    Thank you so much. I hate hate HATE that stupid commercial. If my wife did that I would immediately seek counsel from a divorce attorney.
    I'm glad to hear rock and roll whether it's on the radio, computer, or in a commercial. The fact that they're playing rock and not rap, pop, or other garbage and the younger generation is being exposed to it on TV is fine by me.
    Every time Rush music is played, is always a good thing, no matter what. This commercial is funny,I liked it... I could be the guy! :-D
    for example, i will never ever buy a Kia just because of those stupid-ass annoying rat commericials.
    I think it's a travesty.....from "How Soon is Now?" for Lexus, to "Heroes" at the opening FMV of one of the EA hockey games some years back. The lesser the song the less it bothers me, but it's still a resounding "no" across the board, just on principle. Actually, I take it even further: I don't even like hearing songs I know in movies, to be honest, except in the hands of a maestro like Scorsese. So many times a great song will be exploited by a mediocre movie for the purposes of drama/excitement, or just coolness. Have the main character walk down the street, slow it down, then play a cool song in the background, and all of the sudden it's "art". It's completely parasitical. They've borrowing emotions they're incapable of generating on their own.
    Personally I was just talkin with a friend about this the other day. I like The Black Keys but it irritates me that they have sold Song rights to Ad Companies. Yes im sure it increases their revenue, but their has to be a line drawn somewhere. I actually agree with the way Led Zep handled it back in the day, they saw selling their songs to corporate interests would compromise the artist integrity and and the artist would lose all rights to their own works. So in hindsight it is selling out but I wouldnt allow my work to be used in that manner. I also disagree with how Clear Channel and Universal own 90% or more of all Labels/Bands and Radio Stations. They have sytematically shoved Country, Pop, and Hip Hop down the consumers throats and destroyed Rock and Roll promotion. I wish I had the investment capital to create a promotion company as there is a vast majority of great Rock acts out there but no one cares about promoting or mainstreaming them like they did 20 or more years ago. These are just my views on the matter, but hey RnF'nR!
    I wouldn't mind hearing Cannibal Corpse's "Evisceration Plague" in a car commercial.
    I wanna hear some Opeth in a PetSmart commercial....I HEAR THE BAYING OF THE HOUNDDDDSSSSS!!!!!
    I would have been about 7 when that advert was first aired and remember loving it then, although it was a few years later until I bought my first Maiden record (The Clairvoyant).
    to me the money has nothing to do with it. its if the artist wants the song to be associated with the commercial. obviously they shouldn't ***** out these great songs and take the meaning away from them. Why didn't Jim Morrison want Light my Fire on a Buick commercial? probably cuz it has nothing to do with cars and it meant much more to him than $100,000.
    If it is for a respectable company, the ad is witty, and they don't overdo it - then it is okay. If it is Wal-Mart using AD/DC's Back In Black to advertise their holiday lay-a-way program (an ad I saw last week) then it really destroys the song for me.
    Nero Galon
    A good example is Nikon (camera company). They use a song called Welcome Home Son by Radical Faces. If it wasn't for that add I would probably never have knew it existed. As for other scenarios, anything can be overdone.
    Just don't overdo it. I love The Black Keys but there are far too many ads with their music in them.
    This is funny cause it's true, I didn't know about The Black Keys until I heard the riff from Tighten Up on a Miller beer commercial I think it was.
    I heard an interview where the Black Keys were asked about this issue and the point they made is that they want to make music. If a company comes along and offers them money for their music, they can then take that money and make more music. Plus, by putting their music on a commercial/TV show it exposes them to a wider audience. Win/win. I'm paraphrasing of course. Here's the full interview:
    It's not a problem. I discovered my favorite band through a VW commercial, and I couldn't be more grateful.
    It's really good ad strategy actually. They had the Chevy commercial with The World I Know by Collective Soul in the background, I'd sit through that whole damn commercial just to listen to the song. Same goes with the car commercial with Motley Cre.
    I'm only bothered when it's some crappy pop cover of the song in question (like when "Burnin' For You" was covered for that one car commercial). Or when the lyrics are changed for the product being advertised (for reference, see the Old Navy commercial that used "Sister Christian").
    Why not? It's not like rock is some unadulterated form of music... far worse things than use in ads has happened to it.