Indie Music In Advertising: A Growing Dilemma
  • THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 07, 2013

  • Posted by: Stephen Cardone

Recently, a new trend has emerged in advertising. Over the past five years or so, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of commercials that predominantly feature indie music as the centerpiece of their message. The ads are often constructed around the song as if it were the main attraction, in conjunction with colorful and poppy imagery. At best, it appears to be an attempt to capture the interests and attitude of today's forward-thinking young individuals. It is also possible that these songs are much cheaper to obtain for use in an ad.

Regardless of intention or motivation, the institution of this kind of advertising has presented an intriguing conundrum for the indie bands who are quickly gaining the attention of agencies looking to re-brand their clients' stale products. On one hand, there is the benefit of exposure that these ads provide. The idea of lending a song to a nationally televised commercial can be extremely appealing for band looking to find a larger audience. On the other hand, indie bands face backlash from their fan base, who may feel alienated by the corporate branding being applied to their favorite songs. Still, there is another side to this coin. Refusing to license a song for a commercial has resulted in negative consequences as well. A somewhat notable history of lawsuits over plagiarized tracks has also emerged around the same time. In short, advertisers say, "Give us your song or we will take it anyway." Sometimes the band wins, sometimes they don't. The situation is obviously complicated and it is threatening the very essence of the indie scene. With that being said, let's take a look at some examples of these ads in order to judge whether or not they were successful.


The Ad: Microsoft Zune
The Song: "Sleeping Lessons" by The Shins
The Verdict: In a valiant attempt to beat the iconic iPod commercials that already featured bright colors and indie music, Microsoft licensed "Sleeping Lessons" from The Shins commercially successful Wincing The Night Away for an artsy Zune ad. Did it work? Sort of. The Shins were already everywhere at this point, so no harm no foul. But when was the last time you saw a Zune?




The Ad: Sony Bravia
The Song: "Heartbeats" by Jose Gonzalez
The Verdict: This will get some props, just because it was one of the first commercials of this kind. Still, looking at colorful balls bouncing for over two minutes and a half can get awfully tiresome.




The Ad: Volkswagen
The Song: "Two Weeks" by Grizzly Bear
The Verdict: VW gets some serious demerits for completely ripping off Beach House in a British ad. With that being said, this commercial riffs off the classic punch buggy game in a playful Super Bowl spot. Tracy Morgan shows up on the receiving end of a punch from Stevie Wonder in the final moments. This went on air two years before the Beach House violation so we'll let them off the hook - for now.




The Ad: Budweiser Made In America Festival
The Song: "Will Do" by TV On The Radio
The Verdict: In this ad, Budweiser attempted to unite multiple subcultures into one brand message for their Made In America Festival. Jay-Z talks over a montage of young people doing the kinds of things young people do. Going to concerts, break dancing, making music, giving piggy back rides, and letting birds out of cages. All of this is supposed to represent our national character somehow. At least we get the first ten seconds of "Will Do" looped up in the background.




The Ad: Windows 8
The Song: "Bright Whites" by Kishi Bashi
The Verdict: It's a more colorful Apple ad in disguise. That doesn't stop it from being kind of cool. The song actually fits, and the concept of a picture password is pretty innovative. I guess Microsoft is trying to get away from the 'nerd' image that they have involuntarily been appointed. It's also nice to see K. get some shine. This ad does the job.



So here we have five semi-successful examples of this advertising practice. I can almost guarantee that ads such as these will only get more popular, so we better get used to the idea.

What do you think of these commercials? Do you like hearing your favorite band in ads? Let me know in the comments below.

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