So there's this song from your youth. Whenever you listen to it, it brings back a whole lot of good memories, and you end up going through the rest of your day with a smile.
What better tune to use to advertise a product?
Advertising is all about appealing to emotion to make a sale, and few things hold more unalloyed positive emotion than a favorite song. It's not surprising that the advertising industry very quickly seized upon the idea of buying the rights to a song and using it in an ad. The basic argument is that the good feelings the viewer has for the song will be transferred at least in part to the product, making a new customer or reinforcing an existing one.
As virtually everyone will tell you, it doesn't always work. But that doesn't keep the agencies from trying again and again.
Apparently this practice "works" often enough in the sense of selling enough of the product to make the practice economically sustainable, no matter how artistically objectionable. Spam email has to work on somebody too, right?
Repurposed Pop Songs come in several varieties:
Played straight. Usually the most expensive option. The agency bought the rights to the specific recording that everyone knows. It's used almost untouched except possibly for a bit of editing to make it fit the length of the commercial, or to get right away to the "good bits" (i.e., the part that has relevance to the commercial's pitch).
Cover version. The agency didn't buy (or couldn't afford) the rights to the actual recording, so instead they acquired the right to use the song itself and did their own version. Sometimes it's made as close to the original as possible; sometimes it's wildly different.
Product-specific lyrics. An extension of the "Cover Version". The song's lyrics are rewritten to extol the virtues of the product. This can have the biggest backlash if potential customers feel the original song is somehow "cheapened" or "ruined", so this treatment is often reserved for older or more obscure music.
You will sometimes even encounter altered versions of popular songs being used in really low-budget commercials or when they just couldn't afford the song they really wanted. (See that page for examples)
These commercials can also have an instrumental or acoustic version of the song while a disembodied voice talks about the product/service/help line/donation.
Ray Parker Jr.'s Ghostbusters song was used and changed for 118 118. The line Who ya gonna call? commonly known to end Ghostbusters! was edited to finish 118. Also in the full length version of the original advert, a verse, the chorus and the bridge were all edited, fitting in with that it was advertising a directory.
The song was also used with rewritten lyrics by Courtesy Dealers, changing the lyrics to "If you need a car/or a truck or van/Who ya gonna call?/Go Courtesy!" Ditto for Appleway Motors, cutting more lyrics and changing the rhythm. Also, if you're from South Florida, Maroone Used Car Dealers. Or Bankston in Dallas. Et cetera.
Now that Maroone has become Autonation, Autonation has adopted this song for their ads. They even use it in the ones that say "(car dealer here) is now Auto Nation!"
A commercial for 3-liter bottles of Coca-Cola products sang this as "Thirstbusters!"
"Anticipation" by Carly Simon, used by Heinz to advertise the thickness and richness of its line of ketchups in The Seventies. Played straight, the idea was that, due to its thickness, it poured slowly and was worth the wait.
Saturday Night Live spoofed this ad in the Parody Commercial for Swill Mineral Water. Because this water is from the then-horribly-polluted Lake Erie, it also comes thick and "rich" out of the bottle as the Simon song plays!
"This Will Be" by Natalie Cole, used by eHarmony.com, an online dating service. Played straight, the emphasis is on the next line ("an everlasting love," as in "This will be/an everlasting love") to convey the idea that dating matches that resulted from using eHarmony would last.
"Rub It In" by Billy "Crash" Craddock. A cover version with product-specific lyrics was used by S.C. Johnson & Son for commercials advertising Glade Air Freshners in the 2000s and early 2010s, more than 30 years after Craddock had made the song popular.
Kanes Furniture used "Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet". They turned it into "Ain't seen nothin yet, KANES KANES!!!"
Used as the advertising jingle for The Good Guys ("come in and see the / good good good / guuuuuys!") The Good Guys apparently proved, if you stick with the same product (or in this case, store) specific lyrics for long enough, it will eventually work.
Speaking of the Beach Boys, "Wouldn't it Be Nice" is currently being used with programming-specific lyrics in bumpers for TLC's latest batch of summer programming. Done eerily well, might I add.
The same song has also been used in a series of claymation ads for Cadbury's chocolate, with the lyrics changed to reflect the crazy hijinx that would happen if the world was made of chocolate.
A cover version of 'Wouldn't it Be Nice' is used for the Volkswagen 'Think Blue' ad campaign.
Sheryl Crow's "Every Day Is A Winding Road" for the Subaru Impreza and Nissan Silvia.
Blondie's "One Way Or Another" has been used so many times, for the same illustrative purpose, that now it's (nearly) impossible to hear the song without thinking about somebody trying to open a stubborn bottle lid or crawling around the floor looking for a missing contact lens.
They actually tried to buy R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World as We Know It" which would have probably been even worse; however the band turned them down.
On the same boat, MS tried to use "21st Century Digital Boy" by Bad Religion, which is about overreliance on technology and the negative effect it has.
The portion of Mozart's "Requiem" that talks about the souls of the damned.
Also, a viral ad for Microsoft's Origami platform contained Regina Spektor's "Us", omitting the line "We're living in a den of thieves".
The song appears to be about living in a crumbling, decadent, totalitarian empire. Take your pick whether it's the Soviet Union or Microsoft.
One ad for Microsoft Office XP used Red Rider's "Lunatic Fringe". Needless to say, the commercial ends before the lyrics start up...
Adverts for Philips electronics and Microsoft have used The Beatles' "Getting Better" with another Broken Aesop (the next line is "can't get no worse").
You want Comically Missing the Point: imagine Bob Dylan's counterculture anthem "The Times They Are A-Changin'" used to promote a bank. The Bank of Montreal thought it worked.
In late Spring 2006, Hampton Inns ran a commercial featuring a rewrite of "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" from My Fair Lady.
Bananarama's cover of Shocking Blue's "Venus" for Gilette's Venus razors.
The Orb's "Little Fluffy Clouds" for the New Volkswagen Beetle commercials.
Trio's "Da Da Da" for the Volkswagen Golf.
A version of "Da Da Da" with rewritten lyrics was also used to advertise Ariston domestic appliances in the UK during the mid-80s.
In 2001, progressive rock fans were surprised to recognize a fragment of Jethro Tull's "Thick as a Brick" used in a Hyundai ad.
At some point in the 1960s, McDonald's applied product-specific lyrics to the old gospel tune "Down By The Riverside": "McDonald's is your kind of place..."
In the 1980s, they used "Mack the Knife" with product-specific lyrics as "Mac Tonite" to promote longer operating hours. To drive the point home, the commercials featured a character also called "Mac Tonite", a lounge singer with a moon for a head.
In 1984, Elton John released the single "Sad Songs (Say So Much)" and simultaneously licensed it in a product-specific form to hawk Sasson Jeans by way of the Mondegreen "Sasson (Says So Much)". Worse yet, the video for the song and the commercial were all but identical except for length and that one line.
In 1989, Pepsi-Cola paid $5 million to use Madonna's single "Like A Prayer" in a commercial, but the soft drink company chickened out after protests by religious groups in the wake of the song's video release...A video that, for anyone that doesn't know, includes burning crosses, stigmata, and Madonna having sex with what they assumed to be "Black Jesus"note It was actually a black saint, inspired by St. Martin de Porres. Mmm, Pepsi.
Glad advertised its plastic wrap for a couple of years using Billy Strayhorn's "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" rewritten to "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Cling)".
More recently (2007), Grolsch beer has licensed "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" for use in its ads for a lager sold in beugel bottles that have a swing-top cap.
A non-commercial version of the Broken Aesop effect can be found in the "Kidz Bop" CDs. These take songs that are popular on the radio and re-record them with children doing the lyrics; presumably because some studio executive feared that Avril Lavigne may have been too hard-edged for children on her own. However, the actual content of said lyrics is almost entirely unchanged, resulting in songs about sex, drugs, suicide, and misogyny (among other things) being marketed toward kids. Chris Rywalt has pointed this out.
The Dandy Warhols' song Bohemian Like You was used for a Pontiac car commercial. The first line makes sense, "You got a great car", but fans of the group were singing the next line, "yeah, what's wrong with it today".
For years, Chevrolet used Bob Seger's "Like A Rock" for its line of trucks. It recently switched to ridiculously Eagleland-ish commercials with John Mellencamp's "Our Country" (despite Mellencamp's criticism of Seger for "selling out"). And, after years of it seeming a natural fit, Chevy has picked up "American Pie" — or part of the chorus, at least — for its car ads. Something about that Chevy at the levee...
A competing pickup truck ad called GM on the carpet for that. Its ad was a ballad about their truck coming across a broken-down Chevrolet truck and rescuing it. The end of the ballad is "It's some kinda rock, all right."
A positively painful Broken Aesop from years ago: "The City of New Orleans", about the death of the railroad industry, being used as a car commercial.
"Lust for Life" by Iggy Pop is a rather harsh, cynical song about drug abuse and selling one's soul to the music industry. So naturally, it's been used as a jingle by everything from cruise lines to banks. Do the advertisers even listen to these songs before using them?
"The 30-second spot, which premiered Monday during Everybody Loves Raymond, features images of gleaming skyscrapers, money changing hands, and businessmen on cell phones striding confidently down marble hallways. Notably absent from the ad is any footage of a shirtless, bleeding Iggy Pop in skintight leopard-print pants, repeatedly bashing himself in the face with a microphone onstage at the legendary New York punk venue CBGB's."
According to an Urban Legend that circulated in the mid to late 1980s, the re-election campaign for Ronald Reagan had originally wanted John Cougar Mellencamp's 'Pink Houses' as a campaign theme, apparently unaware of the actual meaning of the song. The response from Mellencamp — who is known for his radical politics (some versions of the legend even claim he is a Wobblie) — was supposedly rather colorful. Regardless of how much or how little truth there is to the UL, it reflects the way advertising campaigns often pick theme songs based on the tone and a few well-known lines without considering the actual message of the song as a whole. Another legend reputes that Reagan had also considered using Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" — a song about selling your soul to the Devil.
The Reagan campaign wanted to use Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A.", despite it having a line that says "Sent me off to a foreign land / To go and kill the yellow man".
There's an interview with the Boss where he basically says "I don't think the Republicans are actually listening to my music, especially not the Nebraska album."
Hell, 90% of all the songs written by Mellencamp/Springsteen are all about how the Republicans are screwing over the working man. Yet their songs are the ones most likely to be heard at a blue collar/conservative event. (See Bourgeois Bumpkin for more in-depth analysis of this phenomenon.)
Because a song with the lyrics "Heroin, heroin, it's all gone, Smoked it all up, and now you got none" immediately makes one think "shampoo!" But to be honest, the song's Accent On The Wrong Syllable makes "heroin" sound like "hair on".
Not to mention that the main theme of the song is about the selling of blood diamonds, as the title clearly indicates. Did Garnier's ad agency even look at the title?
Similar to the Reagan examples, the YMCA and U.S. Navy considered using the Village People's "Y.M.C.A." and "In The Navy", respectively, but caught on to the fact that the songs celebrated homosexuality before they actually started using them.
The latter song was actually used in promotional advertising for the United States Navy for a short time — as part of the deal, the music video was shot on a Navy frigate. The song was dropped from advertising because of protests over using taxpayer money to assist in the production of a then-controversial video.
General Electric's short-lived ad campaign promoting coal usage (with sexy coal miners) used "Sixteen Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford, apparently oblivious to the fact that the song is about wage slavery. To the coal-mining industry.
Viagra's rework of Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas" into "Viva Viagra". Elvis Presley and Viagra.
"Viva Las Vegas" means "Long Live Las Vegas". So "Viva Viagra" means "long live Viagra." Doesn't make it any less stupid, mind you, but at least Pfizer knows what it's doing.
A Turn of the Millennium Pontiac ad campaign uses a cover version of Badfinger's "Come and Get It" — a parody of materialism written for the film The Magic Christian — to sell luxury sports cars. That alone would be bad enough, but in the movie, one of the early scenes has the Eccentric Millionaire protagonist presenting to his car company's board of directors the concept for an absurdly huge luxury car. Its reason for being is essentially to show off how wealthy, powerful, and British its owner is.
Craig David's "What's Your Flava" — a booty-call referring to the ladies as candy and ice-cream flavors — used to sell Popeye's fried chicken, of all things.
Didijin and Minelli, two Venezuelan jeans companies, used a lot of covers of popular songs for their TV commercials, with lyrics changed to talk about how good their jeans looked.
Robert Palmer's "Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)" almost seems like it was made to be used in Dr. Pepper commercials, despite existing for years before they started using it for that purpose.
Target is using "Hello Goodbye" in its ads — and they carefully changed the spelling to put on the screen "Hello Goodbuy."
Only the chorus and the "hey la"s. Any more, and we would still get hints of what this song is really about: the failure to connect. Target isn't trying to be touchy-feely, but you can only go so far...
And then there's Target's use of Devo's "Beautiful World" ("it's a beautiful world we live in..."), of course omitting the subsequent lines "...for you" and "it's not for me")
The infamous 1988 Nike ads using The Beatles' "Revolution" got such a big backlash that it's more or less the reason you only hear cover versions of their tunes used for this purpose, unless it's advertising something Beatles-related.
And there are the "All You Need Is Luvs" ads, which ought to be Killed With Fire.
Buzzcocks' "What Do I Get?" was, weirdly enough, used in a Toyota SUV commercial. By reducing the song to its chorus of "what do I get/oh oh, what do I get" (the answer presumably being extra cup holders and plenty of cargo space), it omitted the song's whole unrequited-love theme, not to mention the fatalistic closing lyrics:
What do I get Nothing that's nice What do I get nothing at all at all at all at all at all at all at all 'cos I don't get you.
Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" being used to sell Wrangler jeans. They only used the first two lyrics (about waving the flag, being red white and blue), ignoring the rest of the song, which is about how politicians got their children out of Vietnam. Intentional in this case; Saul Zaentz, the producer who owns J. R. R. Tolkien's movie rights and most of CCR's catalogue and who has been engaged in a feud with CCR singer John Fogerty for some years (he once -- unsuccessfully -- sued Fogerty for plagiarizing himself, in that his solo songs sounded too much like Creedence tunes), sold the song to Wrangler to anger Fogerty.
The NFL advertised the competitive nature of their sport by using Edwin Starr's "War" to promote the league. However, they were careful about it in that they simply repeated the "War" portion of the song while stopping short of the "What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!" portion.
It should be noted that ABC and ESPN have used a rewritten version of Hank Williams Jr.'s "All My Rowdy Friends Are Comin' Over Tonight" to advertise Monday Night Football, performed by Bocephus himself.
A recent cell phone commercial has Meat Loaf singing Paradise by the Dashboard Light with different, cell-phone related, lyrics. This on its own is peculiar, considering the Anti-Love Song nature of the song itself. The fact that he's singing it to his son...
A more recent Meat Loaf single, "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" was used humorously for a Dr Pepper commercial in which a man does increasingly unmanly things to please his girlfriend as the lyrics play. She tries to take a drink of his Dr. Pepper just as the chorus begins. And he leaves her.
Another very recent commercial has Red M&M singing about doing anything for love-but then it turns out there are a lot of things he won't do...
The hook for Of Montreal's "Wraith Pinned to the Mist (and Other Games)" rewritten for an Outback Steakhouse commercial ("Let's get Outback tonight"). Convincingly, too — it made it sound like their quirky indie hit had always been a commercial jingle. (Incidentally, this probably would be Isn't It Ironic?, except that "Wraith Pinned to the Mist (and Other Games)", like all of Montreal's songs, is completelyincomprehensible.
In a weird example, Venezuelan folk singer and composer Simón Díaz (the old man who composed Caballo Viejo) is openly opposed to the use of his famous songs (not even in covers) in commercials. Instead, he offers to compose and sing songs specially suited for the campaign or the product. Not your typical jingle, I can assure you.
If ever there was a song begging to be used in a cell phone commercial, it's the Who's "Goin' Mobile". A 2008 ad for Fox's Seattle affiliate uses it to promote a service that sends you news headlines by text message.
In 1968, Jim Morrison vetoed a request from Buick, which the other members of the Doors approved of, to use the song "Light My Fire" in a commercial. In a bit of self-parody over the affray, when Robbie Krieger penned the song "Touch Me" later that year, he ended it with the four-note Sting from an Ajax commercial popular at the time, and the final lyrics are Ajax's then-slogan, "Stronger Than Dirt".
Samsung recently used the song "Signal in the Sky" by indie rockers The Apples in Stereo in an ad for one of their phones. This makes the ad painfully hard to take seriously if you know the song, as it's about The Powerpuff Girls.
Toyota rewrote "Mambo No. 5" to describe all the improvements to the new Corolla. Perhaps the song's even better this way.
"Mambo No. 5" was also used as bumper music at the 2000 Democratic National Convention, the same night as then-outgoing President Clinton's speech. "A little bit of Monica..." is probably not what they wanted voters thinking about that fall.
Bizarrely, it was also sung by children's TV character Bob the Builder, obviously with different lyrics.
It was used to advertise Ford motor vehicles in Australia, a few months BEFORE it became a huge hit in Oz.
There's a Disney version of the song, which is quite popular on Disney-owned radio stations.
And in 2013, Party City used repurposed versions of the song for their 2013 ad campaigns, with lyrics changed to talk about what they had for what holiday or special occasion was coming up, and they even did a generic version to promote regular birthday party supplies. It was first used around Saint Patrick's Day.
Applebee's once rewrote "Bread and Butter" to feature products it had on special. This was shortly before the chain changed hands...
Not to mention that shortly after Robert Palmer's death they used "Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor Doctor)" as "Bad Case of Loving Twos" and "Simply Irresistible" became "Simply Irresisti-bowls".
Applebee's also had a commercial with the implied message that eating at Applebee's was patriotic and all-American set to the first few lines of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son": "Some folks are born made to wave the flag, ooh that red, white and blue." They neglected to use the very next line: "But when the band plays 'Hail To The Chief', ooh they point the cannon at you. It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no Fortunate Son."
An even more hilarious re-writing of "Bread and Butter":
Tom Waits, who was notoriously anti-commercial in his early years, was saddled with a combination of the second and third variety of Repurposed Pop Song when a company completely rewrote the lyrics to his song "Step Right Up" (itself a parody of hucksterish commercialism) to sell their product. Waits refused to endorse the (re-written) song, the product, or consent to the use of the melody. So the company hired a convincing sound-a-like to sing the repurposed lyrics. Waits heard the jingle on the radio and spent some time calling everyone he knew in order to refute he had anything to do with it. All this to sell...Cheetos.
A later use of a Waits song (in a Levi's ad) was made even more painful because the sound alike hired was Screamin' Jay Hawkins, one of Waits's biggest influences.
He still is notoriously anti-commercial. He sued both these companies. And WON. That's why you don't mess with Tom motherfuckin Waits.
German internet service provider T-Online has set a huge TV commercial campaign to the tune of the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black". The commercials highlight the wonderful advantages of having the world at your fingertips via broadband internet. The song highlights a horrible case of severe depression.
A Pringles commercial which ran up until just a few years ago had a repurposed version of "I Want Candy", replacing "Candy" with "Pringles".
Repurposed Country of 1 & 3 variety: Alan Jackson rewrote "The Mercury Blues" about buying, instead, a Ford Truck. Ironies abound.
GM used Smash Mouth's Walkin' on the Sun to advertise summer sales on some of their models from 2001 to about 2004/05. Because that song is well known for its relevance to car salesmen.
Not to mention that the song is supposedly about Generation X's disillusionment with the hippie movement becoming commercialized.
Crystal Light single-serving packets used a rather poor remake of "Shake Your Booty," which instead sung "Shake Your Bottle."
And a Pilsbury commercial which changed the lyrics to "Bake Your Cookies".
And diet "supplement" Sensa has used "shake your Sensa."
Fall Out Boy's "Sugar, We're Goin Down" was featured on an ad for NCIS, the Tim Allen family film Zoom, and nearly showed up on Kidz Bop...until Fall Out Boy and their management intervened due to the song's sexual themes. Songs (with no subtle sexual themes this time around) from "Save Rock and Roll" like "The Phoenix" and "My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark (Light 'Em Up)" have been used in many trailers for action packed shows, movies, and sports promos. In fact, the instrumental for "Centuries", from the album released after SRAR, was used in an ESPN promo a month before the song was officially released.
In Australia, Kellogg's Sultana Bran repurposed Heard It On The Grape Vine to It's sultanas from the grape vine/That makes Sultana Bran taste so fine!
In the U.S., the original version was used to advertise California Raisins during the 1980s.
Merle Kilgore, who co-wrote the Johnny Cash song "Ring of Fire" with June Carter Cash, was approached in 2004 about selling the song rights to a hemorrhoid-relief company for an ad (they would've used a version performed by him and not by Cash). Rosanne and the other Cash offspring were not amused and blocked the sale (as they hold a veto power through June's co-writer credit).
George Harrison's (or, for more casual fans, The Beatles') "Taxman" was used by H&R Block because it's a virulent anti-tax song. (H&R Block is the biggest tax preparing corporation in America, and it's supposed to help its customers pay less to the IRS.)
In Australia, "Bend Me, Shake Me" by Amen Corner is used to advertise — of all things — Bega cheese sticks.
Cheesestrings UK adverts changed it to "Bend me, shake me, any way you want me / You got a Cheeststring, you're alright"
The Six Flags commercials featuring "Mr. Six" used an instrumental version of "We Like to Party" by the Vengaboys.
Hampton Inn has a commercial featuring part of "With a Little Help From My Friends" — The line "get high with a little help from my friends" is not included.
It had previously been repurposed with the same altered lyrics by either K-Mart or Target for store-brand children's summer clothing and poolwear. At least they had the "decency" to hack it to bits in order to remove any references to drugs or relationships.
Kids from The Eighties remember the song "Happy Together" less by the Turtles and more by General Mills trying to sell us Golden Grahams.
Velveeta, advertising specifically their "shells and cheese" recipe repurposed The Four Tops' "It's the Same Old Song" into "It's Not the Same Old Side" and even had them appear in the commercial. Their jingles often repurpose other well known tunes.
A cover of "Space Oddity" performed by Cat Power soundtracks a Lincoln MKZ commercial. You know, the song about an astronaut's suicide?
The same company uses Peter Schilling's "Space Oddity" follow-up "Major Tom (Coming Home)" (as performed by Shiny Toy Guns) for a later model of that very same car.
"No Milk Today" by Herman's Hermits has been used for a widely-spread ad for the main dairy company in Norway, Tine Melk. Very funny, actually.
The Obama campaign used "The Rising" by Bruce Springsteen as a victory/rally commencement song. It's a rather depressing song about a firefighter climbing the doomed Twin Towers, and just happens to have a an upbeat chorus contrasting increasingly dire verses. Oddly enough, Springsteen endorsed Obama and played the song live a few times for his events.
Not to be outdone, the McCain/Palin campaign got Hank Williams Jr. to re-do his song "Family Tradition" into "McCain/Palin Tradition".
Before that, John McCain's campaign briefly used "Johnny B. Goode", but Chuck Berry made them stop.
Skyline Chili aired a long-running radio commercial using a rewritten version of "Twilight Time." "It's Skyline time" remained a catchphrase even after the advertisements switched to another song.
Sea Bond advertises with an upbeat version of "Bye Bye Love," sung gleefully (and painfully out of key) by three older women (and one older man, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Stanley Zbornak from The Golden Girls) as "Bye bye paste!"
There is a Benylin cough-medicine ad featuring the chorus of the Clash's "Should I Stay Or Should I Go". Its context? Should the woman stay at home, or go to work?
The Goodies` theme song Goody Goody Yum Yum was used to advertise wine gums, the lyrics altered to Goody Goody Yum Gums.
Nena's "99 Red Balloons" appeared in a jewelry commercial a few years ago. Nothing makes one want to buy fake diamonds like the threat of nuclear holocaust.
Perhaps an even worse example for that same song: a local radio commercial in the middle Georgia area sets a jingle for a steakhouse to the tune of "99 Red Balloons".
A British local radio station managed to do even worse, by using "99 Red Balloons", with the first verse of lyrics, in trailers for a charity balloon release. Great choice: a song where nuclear Armageddon is accidently caused by releasing balloons.
Devo re-recorded their own "Whip It" with product-specific lyrics for a Swiffer ad. Member Gerald Casale later expressed regret about having done so, but this was less because of any sense of cheapening the song and more because he found the ad itself "aesthetically offensive".
Disney caused a controversy by using Third Eye Blind's "Semi-Charmed Life" in a trailer for The Tigger Movie, despite not actually using the lyrics about drugs and sex.
The trailers for Flubber used the song KC And The Sunshine Band's "Get Down Tonight" with the lyrics changed to "Goo a little dance/make a little flub/get down tonight".
The same song was used for either a Pantene or Garnier commercial some years ago.
More recently in a Swiffer ad, and once again, "I believe in miracles" was emphasized.
A 1982 7Up commercial used the last example in basically reworking Kim Carnes' "Bette Davis Eyes" for the soft drink (which also worked in a Pac-Man parody)
Frank Mills' Easy Listening hit, "Music Box Dancer" has been used in many a ice cream truck ever since it hit the billboard charts in the late 1970's
One car company chose to advertise its work with the New Radicals' You Get What You Give, which is predominantly about refusing to surrender (and also states a willingness to kick celebrities' asses...really). How this is related to cars, Vecna only knows. Let's not forget the line "Every night we crash a Mercedes Benz"....
A few years ago Mitsubishi's Australian ad campaign was also based around "You Get What You Give." Refuge in Audacity, or corporate ignorance?
The NFL briefly used Morrissey's "Every Day is Like Sunday" in an advert - a song about how living in a resort town out of season can be so boring you'd welcome an atomic explosion just for a change of pace.
Toyota advertised 0% financing with a particularly terrible cover of The Fixx's "Saved by Zero", ignoring the song's "you can't fall from the floor" message.
In 1971, Melanie Safka wrote the song "Look What They Done to My Song, Ma", about this very trope and how much it sucks to write a song that mean something to you, and then, having someone taking that song and turning it into something completely unrelated. So, obviously, in the 1980s the Quaker Oats Company used a version of that song in their commercials for Instant Oatmeal, with the revised lyrics "Look what they've done to my oatmeal".
Little Eva's "The Locomotion" was rewritten for a 1980s UK ad for petrol... the "Shell promotion", obviously.
a KP Choc Dips ad turned "Cool Jerk" into "Do the Dip", complete with mid-60s-style studio.
Cool Whip used the very same song in the US, turning it into "Do the Cool Whip." Still uses it, in fact.
KFC used an lyrically-altered version of the song to advertise Kentucky Nuggets in Malaysia back in the 80s.
A 2000 Burger King commercial featured the Backstreet Boys singing a rehashed version of their hit "I Want It That Way" (which ended with Burger King's "Have it your way" slogan)
Sir Mix-a-Lot did a jaw-dropping remake of "Baby Got Back"— with a SpongeBob SquarePants (!!) theme— for Burger King in early 2009. The long version of the commercial is here. This was used to promote kids meals with toys inspired by the show, and a lot of parents complained, although it only appeared on late night TV.
Home Quarters Warehouse used a (slightly) product-specific reworking of "Rescue Me" by Fontella Bass which worked "HQ to the rescue" into the refrain.
A 2004 ad campaign for Coke's short-lived "C2" used Queen's I Want To Break Free as its jingle.
A year or two ago, GE used Donovan's "Catch the Wind" in a commercial describing their use of wind power — a bit ironic considering that the singer uses the phrase "I may as well try and catch the wind" to describe how useless his efforts to woo someone are.
Also used by Cran Berry Juice Cocktail: "Crave the Wave!" Always wanted to try them together after that.
James Brown's "I Got You (I Feel Good)" was used in the early 90s commercials for Senokot (a laxative).
Wot, they couldn't get Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "Constipation Blues"?
The Discovery Channel's "The World is Just Awesome" ads are built on a Repurposed Traditional Song.
Recent Cialis ads have been using a cover version of "Be My Baby".
A current commercial for the 2010 Lincoln MKS features a techno cover of Burnin' For You, by Blue Oyster Cult, performed by Shiny Toy Guns.
"I Melt With You" in any commercial involving melted food products.
One use was especially ironic; it was for a limited-edition Burger King sandwich — some kind of "cheddar/mushroom melt" thing — but the band got really upset when they heard that, because one of the band members was vegan.
Canadian restaurant chain Boston Pizza ran a series of TV ads featuring repurposed versions of Yello's "Oh Yeah".
Chrysler used the (very recognizable) hook from Hum's "Stars," a song about a nervous breakdown.
Some years back, an ad for feminine products used "There She Goes" by the La's. Nice peppy little tune, superficially sounding in favor of an active woman. Except the next line is "racing through my brain", and the song is purported to be about heroin.
A commercial for Hood (the milk company) once used the song "Scatman" by the late Scatman John.
It seems to be a "Perfect Day" to go to a Beaches report for a vacation (the song in question was performed by Hoku for the Legally Blonde soundtrack; the song in the commercial is a cover)...
The Sandals resort also wants you to come to their "Island in the Sun," as advertised through a cover version of the Weezer song of the same title that sounds almost indistinguishable from the original (besides the replacement of Rivers Cuomo with some studio singer.)
Inverted with the use of the song "Move This" in a Revlon commercial. The song first appeared in the commercial, than later became a popular hit for the band Technotronic.
Another inversion is "I'd Like To Teach The World to Sing" which appeared in the famous "hilltop" commercial for Coca-Cola. It became so popular that a second version was recorded (minus the Coke references), and released as a popular single.
The PBS show History Detectives has the song "Watching The Detectives," a 1977 song by Elvis Costello, which is about...a woman who would rather watch TV (specifically, detective dramas) than make love.
In the UK, a version of Eddy Grant's "Gimme Hope Jo'anna" with new lyrics is used to advertise the yoghurt drink Yop. The original song was a protest against apartheid.
A German commercial for Buko cream cheese uses the beginning of the Velvet Underground song "Sunday Morning" together with all the happy family breakfast imagery. While the song possesses a tune that might remind you of a lullaby, the lyrics are rather ominous (Watch out, the world's behind you/There's always someone behind you/Here it comes/It's nothing at all).
"Sunday Morning" sounds pretty, and its lyrics are the least defiantly-offensive on the LP The Velvet Underground And Nico. But on an LP notorious for topics including: heroin addiction, masochism, brutal street life, obsession resembling Persona, domestic violence, death and fashion victims [pause for breath], a cynical song could easily appear benign, in contrast.
Mazda's "Zoom Zoom Zoom" (or "Zum Zum Zum") is the first part of a song by Serapis Bey. The song is about capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian martial art form), and at least one part of the lyrics talks about how dangerous capoeira is.
The NFL has been using Skillet's lead single "Hero" in commercials and bumpers, carefully staying in the instrumental without going through the praying-to-God-for-rescue lyrics. Hilariously, the FOX Network in bumpers advertising NFL games has been using Franz Ferdinand's song "The Fallen" which is about Jesus Christ.
Green Day's "Welcome to Paradise" has been played in ads for Couples Retreat. The song's about living on your own for the first time and in a bad neighborhood, not taking a vacation.
The current version of the Hess Truck jingle uses the tune of "My Boyfriend's Back" by The Angels for the earworm factor.
A yoghurt commercial in the UK is using the song 'I Got Life' from the musical Hair to sell itself. Unfortunately the song is about a hippie explaining to his square parents just how much more awesome, cool and alive his drug-addled self is than they are. Oops.
Someone seemed to notice this, and the adverts now come with an awkward re-written cover describing the myriad flavours available.
In the 1970's, Miss Clairol Hair Color made things very tricky for all productions of the show SOUTH PACIFIC, and they got to the point when Nellie sings "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Out Of My Hair" — because everyone in the audience was thinking, "wait, isn't it 'wash that GRAY right out of my hair'?"
The 1992 Clinton Presidential campaign used Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" (although they listed the title as "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow").
I know you don't believe that it's true
I never meant any harm to you
Circuit City used 'Just What I Needed' by The Cars for one ill-fated advertising campaign near the end of their corporate lifespan. The song is about a one-night stand.
The Mötley Crüe song "Kickstart My Heart" (about heroin overdose) was apparently played during the preview of the film Cars (a Pixar film), most likely chosen for the "engine" sound at the start of the song and it's fast tempo. If only those parents knew that Nikki Sixx's heroin overdose convinced them to go to a children's movie...
It's now being used for a Kia car commercial. Motley Crue even appears!
A recent ad campaign for the Kingsford Charcoal Grill Company with the slogan "Slow down and Grill" features a bizarre psychedelic cover of the Human League's "Keep Feeling (Fascination)."
This 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee commercial might work as a sort of generic tribute to the American work ethic... if you didn't know that the song they're playing in the background Johnny Cash's cover of the American folk tune "God's Gonna Cut You Down." Either somebody's making a subtle jab at capitalism/corporations or the people at Jeep didn't figure that Johnny Cash is popular enough for people to recognize one of his most recent songs.
A recent Mississippi tourism commercial uses a tune that sounds uncannily similar to Eisley's "I Wasn't Prepared," a breakup song.
Get-Go was running radio ads for a while with a repurposed cover of Elvis Presley's "In the Ghetto", a song about how harsh life is when you're poor and the futility of trying to escape it.
Meijer did a hilarious parody of the lyric substitution in a radio commercial where they "saved money by repurposing an old song". Cue the song being played with periodically the audio completely cutting out and a deadpan voice inserted "Meijer" in place of the word in the lyrics.
In 2010, Rite-Aid did a commercial using two Groovitron tracks.
KIA's infamous commercial using Hamsters and Black Sheep's "The Choice Is Yours".
A dating website aimed at married women ran an advertisement that took Schoolhouse Rock's "Interjection" and rewrote the lyrics to be about cheating on your husband. The animation was even in Schoolhouse Rock style, with bubble letters writing "Infidelity" when it came up in the song
McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It" jingle? That's taken from a Justin Timberlake song. Really.
"I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" used Turn The Beat Around in a song and dance, but changed the lyrics to be about...margarine.
KFC used a rewritten version of The Monkees' "Daydream Believer" in a commercial that aired in Malaysia in the 90s. The commercial also featured a pair of kids bickering over whether Batman or Superman is superior (KFC secured the merchandising license for the Warner Bros character catalog back then, so they're smug about it).
The Clash's version of "Pressure Drop" was used to advertise for the Nissan Rogue. I don't know what the lyrics are about, but they don't seem to apply to compact SUVs.
In 2010, Macy's controversially used the song "Seasons of Love" — a tribute to love of all kinds — to sell jewelry. The use of only straight couples didn't help matters, either.
What's the perfect song to sell margarine? If you answered "Desmond Dekker's Israelites", then you'd be right...
A truly bizarre one comes from Egypt, where in 2011 this ad came out, using a rewritten version of "Bad Romance" to shill...Romero processed cheese. Add that Egypt is kind of a conservative country, and...
Saturday Night Live did a skit about this: a commercial for an album of classic songs that parents and teens could enjoy together—the parents because they grew up listening to them, the kids because they knew them from commercials. The Beach Boys/Sunkist example above was one of the selections.
Office Depot famously used BTO's "Takin' Care of Business" in a long-running series of ads.
Quite a few local Honda car dealerships have repurposed "La Bamba": "You should be driving a Honda, from [insert name of dealership] Honda..."
Marks & Spencer had a disturbing Christmas commercial with a children's choir singing "Falling In Love Again" from the film The Blue Angel. Most people don't realize the full implications of the song. The original song is "what Blazing Saddles was parodying with "I'm Tired" - a song sung from the perspective of a jaded seductress about how so many men destroy themselves out of desire for her. (Come to think of it, that sort of song is appropriate for a corporation...)
The Halifax Bank, a British financial institution with a reputation for auditioning its own staff to star in big song-and-dance musical adverts (which are generally as naff and dreadful as they sound) exploited Vanilla Ice's Ice, Ice Baby to shift a savings product known as an ISA (see what they did there?) Halifax adverts merit a trope all of their own....
Hershey's has been using lite pop covers of Modern English's "I Melt With You" in recent adverts (like this one) for Hershey Bars, including a jolly Christmasy version for the holiday season. The song itself is about making love during a nuclear holocaust.
"Where Everybody Knows Your Name", best known as the Cheers theme song, is now appearing in State Farm insurance ads, minus the line about always being glad you came. Presumably, being glad that people are coming to them with insurance claims after various misfortunes would convey the wrong image.
One local ABC affiliate used to promote their airings of two episodes of Full House in a row with a version of Madness' "Our House" that changed the chorus to "Hour House" (since it's a half-hour show and all).
In 2011 Honda thought the best way to sell their Honda Civic Si to the young female demographic was with the fun exploits of a masked, super-heroesque girl flying around town in her Si to the tune of MC Chris's “Hoodie Ninja.” Which is about wrapping a sweatshirt around your face and, among other things, peeping on a girl from your homeroom as she undresses in her bedroom. Yeah, that fit the demographic perfectly...
Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold" is now selling VW Jettas. Strange, considering Ted is well-known to be from Detroit/Michigan. Also, there's the lyrics, which one wouldn't normally consider family-friendly.
Ben Folds Five's "Rockin' The Suburbs" was originally a profanity-laced Take That aimed at bad radio rock and whiny suburban teenagers who like it. In Over the Hedge, however, the lyrics instead mocked suburban banality in language suitable for a family film. (This is actually an inversion of the trope, as the original was recorded in 1998.)
Vertical Horizon re-recorded one of their songs from an earlier album, 'Heart in Hand' for the soundtrack for the movie The New Guy. The lyrics were much blander for the experience, although the band does mix in some of the new lyrics during live shows.
An advertisment for Monopoly Electronic Banking Edition features Jessie J's "Price Tag" rewritten to go "It's all about the money, money". Yes, the exact opposite of what the original song says.
Played with in a Nortel Networks commercial. Rather than cover "Come Together", the commercial showed a guy reciting it (Minus the line "He shoot Coca-Cola").
Happens In-Universe in King of the Hill. John Redcorn gets hired to perform at a company picnic, but the rest of his hard rock band Big Mountain Fudgecake refuses to come along. When he's told to adapt, Redcorn takes a song about suicide and rewrites it to be about hygene: "Wake up in the morning, wanna...wash myself, scrub my wrists, clean my brains out..." He's a big hit with kids and ends up becoming "the Native American Raffi".
World in Motion by New Order was repurposed for a Mars chocolate television commercial to celebrate the 2010 World Cup. On the other hand, it was originally written for the World Cup in 1990.
A series of Walgreen's commercials use a lyrics-free version of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Down on the Corner" to signify their origin as an innovative corner store.
Florence + the Machine's "Howl" was used in at least one car commercial, and "Dog Days Are Over" in various other places.
In 1997, ABC used a re-written version of "Respect" for a Recess commercial, changing the lyrics to be about the show, and the chorus was changed to "R-E-C-E-S-S".
Part of West Side Story's "I Feel Pretty" was used in a diaper commercial (replacing replacing "gay" with "dry").
Alice Cooper was in a commercial for "Staples" as part of his hit "School's Out" was played near the end. He was with his daughter, getting back-to-school supplies:
Daughter: I thought you said "School's out forever."
Alice: No, no, no. The song goes, "School's out for summer. Nice try though.
This "exclusive cut" of the 2013 Super Bowl commercial for "M&M's" has Red sing Meat Loaf's "I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)". He's trying to woo Naya Rivera of "Glee" but goes "But I Won't do That!" the moment she licks the back of his head.
Speaking of Mr. Loaf, here he is with his "signature dish" and finds goes better with A1 steak sauce. In this altered version, his lyric is "And I would do anything for love and I always do this (pour A1 on meatloaf)".
Status Quo rerecorded a song for an Australian supermarket company with lyrics advertising the company. It makes every Australian cry with anger.
"Little Boxes" as a theme for how using a certain mobile phone will give you discounts for big chain stores? Why not?
Arthur Prysock later adapted his 1978 song “Here’s to Good Friends” into a jingle for Löwenbräu beer.
In another In-Universe Example, Phoebe from Friends reunites with her old singing partner, who had left to write jingles. Later she is horrified to find that her friend had appropiated her signature song "Smelly Cat" and sold it for use in a kitty litter commercial.
NBC has used the intro of Deep Purple's "Knocking at Your Back Door" to promote a new show called Shark Hunters...the problem is that, even though that intro sounds like a Jaws parody, it's also a song about anal sex.
Toyota used the song "Bargain" by The Who - emphasising the lines "I call that a bargain / the best I ever had." It's actually a song about how love is better than material possessions.
Janis Joplin's acapella song Mercedes Benz was used in a car commercial to flog... er... Mercedes Benz. The advertising company responsible did not stop to think about the appropriateness of using a song by a poster girl for Southern Comfort, who if given a Mercedes-Benz to drive would have been so habitually wasted she'd have crashed it. They also did not stop to think that Joplin-savvy listeners watching the advert might have also reflected on the (not-used) third verse, which implores the Lord to buy Janis a night on the town, with all that implies for consequent drunken driving...
Prove that you love me, and buy the next round! Oh Lord, won't you buy me a night on the town...
A series of commercials for Bud Light celebrates various superstitions that sports fans have, featuring the song Superstition by Stevie Wonder. Sounds appropriate, right? But listen to the lyrics again—they're about how superstitions are bad for you.
The IMAX film The Living Sea used several songs by Sting throughout, including the song "Why Should I Cry for You" in three different arrangements. While the song's nautical imagery is suitable for the film, its actual subject matter of its protagonist out at sea, alone on a boat, mourning his father and pondering his own mortality while his demons surround him, isn't.
"All colours bleed to red, asleep on the ocean's bed. Drifting in empty seas, for all my days remaining. But would North be true? Why should I cry for you?"
As for examples that completely miss the point of the song at hand, there's a Citroen C3 commercial that features Simple Plan's song "Welcome to My Life" where every material possession of a family gets instantly upgraded according to the catchline "If you want more: change your life. Change your car". The song itself has an upbeat melody, the lyrics, though?
To be hurt, to feel lost, to be left out in the dark. To be kicked when you're down. To feel like you've been pushed around. To be on the edge of breaking down when no-one's there to save you. No, you don't know what it's like. Welcome to my life.
Yes, this is the whole chorus. And yes, you can hear it all in the ad itself.
During the 1970s, the then called Plymouth Arrow (now called Mitsubishi Lancer A70), used the Harry Nilsson song "Me and my Arrow" from The Point.
In 1989, McDonald's had a "Menu Song" sung to the tune of "Life Is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)". The song listed the items on McDonald's menu:
Big Mac Mc DLT a Quarter Pounder with some cheese Filet-O-Fish a hamburger a cheeseburger a Happy Meal etc.
More recently, the same song was used in a radio commercial for Tyson's Corner Center, a mall in Northern Virginia. This version listed names of the stores in the mall.
British Gas uses an instrumental version of "The Universal" by blur.
A commercial for Little Friskies cat food modified the 1920's song Ain't We Got Fun
Parodied by spoof record label Clubbo Records. The soulful Breakup Song "Yeah, Yeah, No, No, No, No" is sullied by a couple of increasingly poor cover versions, the second of which is then adapted for use in a cat food commercial.
A recent commercial for Apple's iPhone 5 uses the song "Ooh La La" by Goldfrapp. Of course, this is fitting seeing as how the lyrics start with "Dial up my number..."
For several years, NASCAR used Metallica's "Fuel" as a themesong. A pulse-pounding song about the thrills, and dangers, of street racing, with an addiction subtext. They even forgot to censor the word fuck in one of the lyrics.
British upmarket department store John Lewis is now mostly associated with ads that, in addition to being incomprehensible, often involve quiet, brittle cover versions of songs that weren't originally like that at all (such as Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine"), to the extent that any such cover version will now be dismissively referred to as "the John Lewis version".