What cretin thought “Try a Little Tenderness” would be a good theme song for toilet paper?
What ad agency madman imagined that “Human” – a song about infidelity and confession and forgiveness – would be just peachy for an insurance company commercial featuring an air conditioner dropped on a car?
There are too many examples to list here: Quaker Oats “Put a Little Love in Your Heart”; Fiber One “Total Eclipse of the Heart”; Yoplait “All Day and All of the Night.”
I’ll tell you who thinks these up. Young people.
They count on their targeted demographic being too young to remember the songs as a part of their life, one that brings backs memories and feelings and events. High school. First love. First sex. Who cares if the lyrics don’t match the product? If a single word from the title remotely relates to the product, or the melody is pretty or energizing or attention-grabbing, that’s fine.
It was bad enough when all you had to fear was hearing The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” or “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” strangled with strings while you were riding an elevator or shopping for groceries. (Yes, that was me gagging in the elevator.) But now even the songs of the 80s are “oldies” and considered fair game. The pitches invade every home that has a TV or computer. Which means pretty much everyone except the Amish.
I know that past a certain date the songs are public domain and the writers/singers get no royalties. I know that even if the company does have to pay royalties, they are but the tiniest drop in the bucket labeled “marketing expenses.” I know that sex – the underlying content of most popular songs – sells.
But what they’re selling are my memories and yours. Try to pick your favorite from the days when you related strongly to a song. Then imagine that singer going door to door peddling something. Gordon Lightfoot selling encyclopedias. Janet Jackson selling make-up. Hootie and the Blowfish selling patio awnings. Pink selling food storage devices.
You can’t. For one thing, no one sells door-to-door anymore except those guys that sell questionable steaks. Many people order everything from underwear to financial advice over the Internet. But you get the idea.
Of course the youngsters’ uppance will come. Years from now they will hear Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj or Fall Out Boy being used to hawk hoverboards or maple bacon vodka or tampons. And they will cringe. Deservedly. And the ghosts of their elders will rub their wizened hands and cackle with glee.
Until that time, however, when faced with The Who’s “Who Are You?,” the only answer is, apparently, “I’m a shoe.”
C’mon. Share the outrage. What slices of your life have been trivialized by advertising? What memories have been reduced to background noise or crass commercialism? What songs would you like to take back from the hucksters and reclaim as the soundtrack to your life?