Saturday, June 10, 2017

Ads and music....

I have a pretty good auditory memory. I can pick out songs I know* pretty easily, and I also tend to think a lot about the meaning/intent of a song.

This is sometimes kind of weird given the usage of music in ads. 

(*I mostly know pre-1985 pop or things like "standards" and classical, so I doubt I will be going on that new game show where you try to beat some online app at identifying music)

The current one that's poking at my brain is the car maker that's using Simon and Garfunkel's "America" in their ads.

It's interesting in that they have selectively chosen, they cut out "so we bought a pack of cigarettes....and Mrs. Wagner's pies..." (Because cigarettes are Not Correct for people to be implied to consume these days, and Mrs. Wagner's pies haven't existed since the summer of 1969).

But more importantly, given what a car ad is trying to do, vs. what I saw as the original intent of the song, they don't play the lines:

"'Kathy, I'm lost,' I said, though I knew she was sleeping,
'I'm aching and empty and I don't know why..."

Not exactly the mood that a company looking to sell a family or couple their product would be going for....I always saw "America" as fundamentally a song of disaffection, about people who don't know their place in the world, and are kind of anti-consumerist (they're riding around the country on a bus, for goodness sake - though maybe buses were nicer 50 years ago than they are now). Not the sort of song that would persuade me to buy a car.

Then again, I'm probably not their target market. What I want in a car is really mostly: 1. Is it safe to drive, will I be more or less likely to survive if I get in an accident? and 2. Is it reliable or am I going to be stuck with it in the shop all the time? and 3. (though this is a lesser concern because I don't drive THAT much) Is the gas mileage okay?

So anyway.

(I also will confess here that the ad with the Irish (? I presume) grandma going with her American family to scatter her husband's ashes creeps me out a little bit. I mean, yeah, I get for some people that's a meaningful thing but I'd be really uncomfortable traveling 2000 miles - presumably, the family is going cross-country - with grand-dad's ashes in an urn on the seat next to me)

But this has gone on for a long time. I remember some years ago being puzzled by Dove soap using a song that I knew as "La Goulante de Pauvre Jean" - fundamentally, a song about a guy who is broke and women don't like him, so he becomes a crook and, it implies, is hanged for his troubles. Doesn't have anything to do with soap or bathing or even really women's beauty...

(And through the magic of YouTube, here it is, along with an English translation of the rather slangy French. And as far as I know French slang of that era, it seems a pretty accurate one)

And yes, I know: here it's perhaps better known as "The Poor People of Paris" as a sort-of gloopy instrumental. But surely I'm not the ONLY American who started singing the Piaf version under her breath when the ad came on?

I also remember an ad for a sports drink that used a version of "House of the Rising Sun" as the music over video of people falling, wiping out, etc. (presumably because they got dehydrated) and it caused a similar dissonance in my mind. And one for a tea that used "Little Bitty Pretty One" morphed into something that was like a chant, and they had people dressed as Zen monks humming to it.

And I know there was some Gen-X outrage I saw online over a brand of crackers using Modern English's "Melt with You" in its ad. (I do think advertisers do that sort of thing with some risk: there does seem to be a group of people who would reject a brand for "banalizing" an iconic song by using it to push their product)

Though more recently, there was a Piaf song used pretty effectively in an ad - showing a woman going through the stages of her life to the tune of "Non, Je ne Regrette Rien" (no, I regret nothing - primarily it was about the loves in the singer's life, which, for Piaf, there were numerous). The ad was surprisingly moving (it was for Dove chocolates) and the music there was effective. (It may also have been that there was enough ambiguity in the ad - what does it actually mean? that it caught people's attention) But it does seem all too often, the music seems chosen purely because "hey, it's something our customer base relates to!" or "hey, that's a cool tune!" or maybe even "The title relates to our product!" without really thinking.

Perhaps the reason the "Je Ne Regrette Rien" ad was so striking - and so many people responded positively to it - was that it was one in which the music and the mood it meant to convey *matched*. (It probably also didn't hurt that it was an old enough - and perhaps, obscure enough in the US - song that there wouldn't be anyone who'd huffily go "THAT WAS AN ICONIC SONG OF MY EARLY 20S AND YOU ARE TRYING TO DESTROY IT!!!"

Oh, and another one, though this one seems kind of nonsensical to me and I sort of like how it's silly: Cici's Pizza (a chain that does pizza buffets) is using "Safety Dance" (in highly modified, instrumental form) as background music in their ads.

This is it:

I can't go "They're ruining a song of my youth!" because, honestly, having Ren-Faire-wenches and jester-little-people in the video kind of means that ship has already sailed.

1 comment:

CGHill said...

"The Poor People of Paris," to give it its wrong title, was a favorite of mine as a youngster; it was many years before I figured out what was actually going on.

On that S&G thing for Volkswagen: Yeah, I hear you. There's something fundamentally askew about the message they're sending.