Selling out – rock music in car advertising

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Ever since I was a kid, and had an earful of Coca-cola’s hillside singers teaching the world to sing, I’ve been more than a little cynical about the use of music in advertising.

A good song had great meaning and resonance and to use it in a commercial can seriously undermine the love and loyalty that the music has built up over the years. Take Renault’s use of Cream’s ‘I Feel Free’ to sell a forgettable saloon car back in the 80s.

Word is that Jack Bruce actually re-recorded the song especially for the commercial, and a promotional promo 7″ single was given out in Renault showrooms.

Not to be outdone by his former Cream band mate Eric Clapton allowed his famous Layla riff to be used on a series of Vauxhall ads.

British rocker Brian May – best known for his work with Freddie Mercury and Queen – went the whole hog and wrote a whole song specifically for Ford.

Today rock music and all its associated ephemera are touch points for advertising writers. Baby boomers who are approaching retirement have a huge amount of spare cash. Old rock music has a special cache for this market, so it’s now hard to find artists from the golden era of rock that hasn’t taken the money and run.

Take Led Zeppelin for instance, who allowed ‘Rock n Roll’ to be used to flog Cadillac.

In the States it seems perfectly natural to use Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s ‘Like A Rock’ to sell a Chevy truck. Commercially it made sense, and fitted in with the song so well.

How about Janis Joplin and Mercedes?

So how about those high and mighty rebel punk rockers, The Sex Pistols?

Yep, they took the filthy lucre…

And The Clash, so militant and uncompromising? Did they make a stand?



Over to 8 Mile and Detroit’s favorite son, losing himself over a Chrysler car.

They liked this so much they did it again, this time for Nissan.

So what about veteran New York art-rocker Lou Reed? He walked on the wild side for Honda:

Even the man least likely to – Mark E. Smith, ascerbic front man of legendary Manchester indie band The Fall, well, he took a dive too.


There is one band who made music for a car ad that didn’t look like a sell out, and that’s Wilco, who contributed this fabulous music for a Volkswagen ad.

I have to sign off with a little irony, as Iggy Pop makes a darn fool of himself for Swiftcover car insurance. Ironic because the commercial was eventually banned because the company did not extend car insurance coverage to musicians.


Andy Royston is a designer, artist and photoblogger based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Veteran of the London 1980s music scene, where he designed record sleeves for all kinds of rock stars and indie heroes he is a bottomless pit of musical trivia. Still looking for the next big thing he’ll be dropping into JAQUO.COM to write an irregular column on the musicians he’s most excited about.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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