Fightin’ the Man by buying stuff, pt. 17

In the tired (and tiresome) department of consumption-as-rebellion, there’s this story in today’s New York Times business section — about how companies are using originally rebellious and nihilistic 70s rock to sell stuff:

The Clash’s “London Calling,” with its lyrical images of nuclear winter, looming ice age and engine failure, might seem a particularly annoying musical choice for selling an elite brand of cars. But for Jaguar, the 1979 song was the perfect accompaniment to the television commercials for its new X-Type car.

Jaguar is not the only company blithely using songs whose lyrics come off as downright contrary to the images of the brands they advertise. Commercials for family friendly cruise ship vacations with Royal Caribbean are set to Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life,” a rousing ode to drug life from a punk firebrand who has acknowledged his own copious substance abuse. Television ads for Wrangler jeans combine images of denim-clad Americans with lyrics from “Fortunate Son,” a blistering Vietnam-era protest song by Creedence Clearwater Revival. And marketers promise there will be more.

As I blogged a while back, Rob Walker wrote a superb piece in the Boston Ideas section explaining this trend — by pointing out that rock fans frequently just don’t listen to lyrics. I totally agree. And indeed, this new Times article provides ever more evidence:

Executives at Jaguar, a division of Ford Motor, knew there was something funny about juxtaposing their bourgeois brand with “London Calling” and the Clash, which once released a triple album called “Sandanista.”

“I was a little concerned, because the lyrics weren’t appropriate for our message,” said Mark Scarpato, retail communications manager at Jaguar. Young & Rubicam in Irvine, Calif., part of the WPP Group, created the spot.

Skilled editing, however, transformed it from apocalyptic to energetic, helping Jaguar project a hip image. “It’s a fairly dark song when you listen to it, but we used it in a positive way,” Mr. Scarpato said.

John Fogerty is simply brilliant in response to all this:

“I was protesting the fact that it seemed like the privileged children of the wealthy didn’t have to serve in the Army,” said Mr. Fogerty, who does not own the rights to his music.

“I don’t get what the song has to do with pants,” he added.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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