Ad Spend Creativity Brand Strategy

From Iggy Pop to Led Zeppelin: the 10 worst songs used in ads

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By Kenneth Hein | Editor

September 8, 2022 | 6 min read

Here are the top songs that no one ever wanted to hear in ads for burgers, booze and big crusts.

person shopping for vinyl records

A simple song selection can make or break an ad / Credit: Adobe Stock

Selecting the right song to accompany an ad is often a painstaking process. It can either make the commercial soar or sink. The Drum checked in with a number of experts, on and off the record, about what tracks they absolutely hated and why.

10. Baby Got Back by Sir Mix-a-Lot for Romano’s Macaroni Grill

We cannot lie about this odd selection. “I don’t begrudge an artist taking the money, but man, nobody is thinking of flatbread crusts when they watch this,” says Jack Epsteen, senior vice-president, director of production at GSD&M. “I really bristle at reworked lyrics to a song that has resonated with popular culture. This is one of the most egregious ones.”

9. Whip It by Devo for Swiffer

Devo created one of the defining tracks of the early new wave and synth-pop movement. The song Whip It was brazen in its originality, motorik beat, alleged sexual undertones and odd song construction. Then it just became plain silly when the brand willingly recreated the song for an ad about mops.

8. Everybody’s Happy Nowadays by Buzzcocks for AARP

Punk rock got old fast.

7. Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival for Wrangler

“I really hate this ad and the way the song was used. They made a very patriotic heartland blue jeans ad and just used the first line of the song, but the entire song is a protest song against the government during Vietnam,” says Paul Greco, executive director of music and audio at Wunderman Thompson New York. “It misrepresents everything the song is about and makes the brand look bad, in my opinion.”

6. Blister in the Sun by Violent Femmes for Wendy’s

The use of this song actually broke up the band. The bass player despised its use in this Wendy’s commercial so much that he sued the lead singer. Plus, “no one wants to think about blisters when eating a burger,” says one exec.

5. Jane Says by Jane’s Addiction for Jack Daniel’s

This song is literally about Jane who had a bad heroin problem, thus the name of the band Jane’s Addiction. Putting it in an ad about one of the most addictive substances on Earth is mind-boggling. Or as one sage ad exec sums up: “Always make sure you know the context of the song before you use it.”

4. Rock and Roll by Led Zeppelin for Cadillac

For anyone who grew up at the altar of Led Zepplin this is just pure heresy. It’s like a Zofo sticker on a Cadillac.

3. White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane for Celebrity Edge Cruises

Did you pack your surrealistic pillow? As Greco says: “What goes on onboard these cruises? This [song] is about dropping acid. It kind of feels off-brand to me. Plus, it’s dark and morose. Cruises are supposed to be fun, right?”

2. Girls by Beastie Boys for GoldieBlox

The Beastie Boys made it perfectly clear that they never wanted their music in any ad, and lo and behold this company selected Girls. The band sued and ultimately had the company donate the proceeds to charity.

1. Lust For Life by Iggy Pop for Royal Caribbean

Here is the ultimate example of not understanding the underlying meaning of a song and just focusing on one line or lyric – or just ignoring it completely, says Greco. “I never could figure out why a cruise line would use a song about shooting heroin... unless you are into that kind of thing on a cruise. Both are fails either way.”

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