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Throwback Thursday: Six Great Uses of Music in Car Commercials

Throwback Thursday: Six Great Uses of Music in Car Commercials
Jason Galliger

Car commercials are often a dime a dozen, but there have been a few over the years that have stuck in our conscious. One of the reasons why is the music.

However, using music in a commercial can be quite expensive. In order to use a song in a commercial, companies have to obtain a license from the artist or the label. For TV commercials these licenses can range anywhere from $25,000 to $500,000 per year for national coverage and could be even more expensive depending on the popularity of the song.

There are many different ways songs are used in commercials. The six examples below were some of the best uses of music that helped make these ad campaigns of the past some of the most memorable.

Mitsubishi: Dirty Vegas – “Days Go By“ (2002)

Back in 2002, British house trio Dirty Vegas had just decided to make the song “Days Go By” their leadoff single when a Mitsubishi executive saw their music video and requested to use it for a commercial. Initially hesitant, the trio made the deal with Mitsubishi and a few months later “Days Go By” was no. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance Music/Aqua Club Play chart and no. 14 on its Top 40 Airplay Monitor chart. The commercial itself not only propelled the group to newfound levels on popularity in the U.S. – including a subsequent U.S club tour – but also revived the popular dance style known as “popping.”

Even if they hadn’t agreed to the commercial, “Days Go By” could have been a major hit. However, the massive audience that the commercial provided combined with the brilliance of the directing and the fitting backdrop of the music made the commercial and, by extension, the song itself huge.

Jaguar: Sting – “Desert Rose“ (2000)

Another artist to have a song break big because of a car commercial was Sting. Back in 2000, his new album “Brand New Day”and its single “Desert Rose” weren’t doing so well on the charts. The music video shot for the single featured a brand-new Jaguar S-Type. Believing the music video looked like a car commercial, Sting’s manager sent the video to Jaguar’s ad agency, Ogilvy & Mather, and asked them to make a commercial like the music video for free use of the song (which as we discussed before can be very expensive). The agency loved the tape and collaborated with Sting on a variety of music videos and other collateral that led to “Desert Rose” becoming a huge hit in the U.S., selling over 3.5 million copies. The ad was one of the first commercials in the modern era to bridge pop culture with car commercial advertising.

Chrysler: Eminem – “Lose Yourself“ (2011)

Other commercials use well-known songs to try and build an instant connection with the audience. Perhaps the most memorable song used in a car commercial was Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” in the renowned Chrysler commercial that aired in 2011 at halftime of the Super Bowl. The commercial signaled the start of the automaker’s “Imported From Detroit” campaign and coincided with the introduction of the completely re-designed Chrysler 200 model. Chrysler’s commercial was so popular that it eclipsed the release of the car itself and created an entire fan base around just the commercial.

Chevrolet: Bob Seger – “Like A Rock“ (1991-2004)

While Chrysler’s use of music in its ad was one of the most memorable in recent times, it is certainly not the only time music has been so associated with a car brand. Bob Seger’s song “Like A Rock” was used for Chevy trucks from 1991 until 2004. The imagery of the Chevy Trucks climbing over mountaintops became some of the most iconic car visuals of the 1990s and is still heavily associated with the brand today.

However, using popular music in car ads can be risky. Consumers can come to associate the brand and the music together, especially if the commercial is overplayed. If the consumer already has a negative association with the song or the commercial itself, those negative feelings can be transferred to the car brand. Thus, the car brand’s image in that consumer’s mind is potentially ruined.

Subaru: Sheryl Crow – “Every Day Is A Winding Road“ (2006)

Sting received some criticism for his collaboration with Jaguar that was directly filtered down to Sheryl Crow whose song “Every Day Is A Winding Road” was used in a 2006 Subaru Outback commercial. Crow also was known for her environmental advocacy and was criticized for allowing her song to be used in an SUV car commercial.

Regardless, music is powerful in car commercial industry. It can be used for comedic effect, dramatic atmosphere, enhancing the informative content, recall of other positive associations, a continuation of the brand’s “musical style,” or just as simple background. A recent example of this was Dodge’s use of the song “No Church In the Wild” by Watch the Throne, Jay-Z and Kanye West’s side project, in an ad for its Dart model. The commercial uses only the first few chords to build rhythmic excitement while the voice-over takes on a more rap like quality. The result is an attention grabbing, to the point, memorable ad.

Dodge: Jay-Z and Kanye West – “No Church In the Wild“ (2013)

Next time you see a car commercial, listen up; you just might like what you hear.

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