26 October, 2007


You’ve probably seen this DeBeers diamonds commercial. It features both an ugly necklace and a beautiful cover of Cat Stevens’ How Can I Tell You. I find myself excited for the commercial breaks during my primetime favorites (Pushing Daisies, The Office, and House—for anyone who’s interested) because I know this commercial will come on (DeBeers has bought a lot of broadcast time), and I’ll get to hear Chan Marshall’s sweet mellow voice warble those sweet lyrics one more time.

Never heard of Chan Marshall?

You’re not alone. She’s the front woman of a band called Cat Power, who despite having recorded nine albums, are anything but mainstream. For some incredibly frustrating reason, they haven’t released their recording of How Can I Tell You. Trust me on this one; I did a lot of digging, at which point this blog topic came to be. Most people aren’t familiar with the band’s name so they have to remember the product the song is promoting in order to get the right results from a Google search. Now that’s what good advertising is all about. It doesn’t have to be an immediate call to action, just a call to remember. The use of little known or underground bands in commercials as a means of accomplishing this is becoming quite a trend. See the following for proof (if for no other reason than to have a good song stuck in your head):

JCPenney, featuring Regina Spektor’s Music Box

Old Navy, featuring Ingrid Michaelson’s The Way I Am

Target, featuring The Icicles’ La-Ti-Da

M&M’s, featuring Iron & Wine’s cover of Such Great Heights by The Postal Service

These ads are for enormous corporations and use the music of bands and vocalists who are not well known (by Billboard 100 standards, anyway). The music in these ads is quirky and catchy, pop-ish but not bubblegum, and most importantly, pretty underground. Here’s why it’s effective:

1.) People like underground. It makes us feel cool to like stuff that other people don’t know about yet. It is the reason we have variations of snobs—film snobs, video game snobs, book snobs, restaurant snobs, rock snobs, jazz snobs, sports snobs, etc…. An unfortunate human tendency, perhaps, but one that gives advertisers a ton of material. Create a connection between your audience feeling cool and your product, and you’re golden.

2.) People like mystery. There is an incredibly intriguing element of mystery and story involved in a song you can’t quite identify, especially one you end up humming all day. Once the audience associates that mystery and intrigue with a product, they’ll remember it.

3.) People like personal. Quirky & catchy songs sound personal. Everyone knows Target has a store on every street corner in America. Using a song like La-Ti-Da helps each Target store seem like the neighborhood mom & pop shop—much more personal, much homier. Make the ad feel like something that is being shared with each audience member individually, and a personal investment will develop.

It wouldn’t work if a Britney Spears song was used. Why? Well besides the fact that she’s crazy, she’s everywhere. Too public, not personal enough, too mainstream, not mysterious, and certainly not quirky. Advertising with indie alt-rock songs is all about getting into the audience’s head from underneath. Fortunately for DeBeers, the ugly necklace is probably selling like Cabbage Patch dolls because it does just that.

P.S. For all of those of you out there who've seen a commercial and wondered, "Who sings that song?", here's your one-stop shop for answers: http://adtunes.com/.

Maggie Ross, Production Coordinator

Indie-AdsSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

4 others 'fessed up:

jdm7 October 26, 2007 at 1:23 PM  

and . . .
4) More and more ad execs are 20,30 & 40-somethings that use music from "their" generations that the older (and square-er) corporate owners aren't familiar with.

M.M.McDermott,  October 30, 2007 at 5:19 PM  

Excellent point, J. My successful, powerful Gen X peers have snagged some of the most influential ad exec spots in the world and are really reshaping the look (and sounds) of advertising. Wow, I suddenly feel like a helacious loser.

Googe November 24, 2007 at 5:36 PM  

there is no question that indie rock and pop have helped advertising and vice versa.

although the concept itself flies in the face of what many think indie rock should be (totally detached from corporate anything), the movement is indeed the result of GenXers making it in the advertising world. at the end of the day, it's the choice of great music - not always of course - that can really sell a brand or not

I cover many of these issues on my own blog http://indierockcafe.com and I'm definitely linking this article on my blog!

m.m.mcdermott,  November 26, 2007 at 10:49 AM  

Thanks for the link, googe. We'll be sure to check it out.

The Renegade Agency Confessional - Blogged

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP