Start the Commotion

Start the Commotion

Author’s Warning: The following is another contribution to the accumulating coverage of the nexus between automotive marketing and music. While this may seem dubious to some people, it is predicated on the fact that (1) automotive manufacturers are among the world’s leading marketers, which means that they are spending staggering amounts of money trying to convince consumers not only of their products’ relevance and importance and desirability, but (2) that they are evidently convinced that it is imperative to persuade a group of people who range in age from 16 to 49, people with disposable income, that they, the vehicle manufacturers, are clued in, and the means through which they are doing this is borrowing the music of the relative generations (from Dirty Vegas to Led Zeppelin). Their co-option—although often voluntary and driven purely by economic motives—of the musicians’s work dwarfs that of any other class of corporation when it comes to using music for what is essentially propaganda. Perhaps it is irrelevant to dwell on this. Perhaps we should just be blithe to the whole sociopolitical ramifications (it isn’t just Clear Channel that determines who you see and what you hear—not by a long shot) of this. If that is your position, then stop reading this now, if you didn’t already.

Mitsubishi Motors had a problem. It was simply that compared to other Japanese brands, they weren’t moving much sheet metal in the world’s most important market for cars and trucks, the American market. Some of this had to do with distribution. They didn’t have as many outlets as the other guys. Part of this had to do with product. Some of it (e.g., the Mirage) just didn’t make the grade as compared to the likes of the Civic and the Corolla. And another aspect of this had a lot to do with image. Whereas Honda has become closely identified as being the brand that tuners gravitate toward, and Toyota has the reputation for providing bulletproof (but comparatively bland) transportation, Mitsubishi was, essentially, as the name of their WWII airplanes had it, zero.

One of the consequences in being in this position was that they faced economic constraints with regard to what they could do. So they opted for cleverness to be a lever. In 1998, the company awarded its advertising account to Deutsch Inc.’s LA office. Which came up with a theme, “Wake Up and Drive.” The target was to be young, edgy, spirited group—not my characterization, but what I was told by the vehicle manufacturer’s vice president of Corporate Communications & Public Affairs. The brand positioning included the notion that the cars “make you look and feel alive.” So to wake up people, they turned to music, music that is ostensibly coming out of the speakers of the various vehicles as people are on their way to hip venues. The people in VW ads are comparative slugs to these. And the people driving in the rocks in the Nissan spots are just so, well, déclassé. Waking up includes seat dancing. Popping.

Whereas the DaimlerChrysler bank account is deep enough to sign Aerosmith, Mitsubishi didn’t have the requisite amounts to sign big names to their advertising campaign. So some audiophile at Deutsch went listening for options. One such option was a 1998 number from The Wise Guys, “Start the Commotion,” which was released in the U.K. and quickly departed the charts. It sounded right for the black and white, quick-cutting, trendy spots of attractive people driving the Eclipse. But what’s interesting to note is that the commercial in question (entitled “Fun”) was released in 2001, long after “Start the Commotion” had proved to be a non-starter. The aforementioned veep told me that thanks to the car commercial, “Start the Commotion” was driven to the Top 10 in the U.S. (And, yes, Mitsubishi sales have increased.)

There have been several spots in the series. “One Week” from the Barenaked Ladies for the Lancer. “20th Century Boy” from the sometimes-lamented voice of Marc Bolan and T. Rex for Montero Sport. “Lust for Life” by Iggy for the Galant. Not the A-team, but getting it done.

What is the most interesting—and possibly troubling—is the most recent spot, which features “Days Go By” by the British trio Dirty Vegas. The song has been nominated for a VH1 “Visionary Video Award” and “Best Dance Video” in the MTV Video Music Awards. Not bad. But read this, from the Dirty Vegas website:

“Earlier this year [2002] the song [“Days Go By”] was picked by car maker Mitsubishi to use as the soundbed in a US TV Ad campaign. The song received more attention than the car and soon “Days Go By” became the most added track at radio, the stunning video became a fixture on MTV, and Dirty Vegas became probably the hippest band in America.”

What the band’s self-adulatory praise leaves out is that it seems that the release of “Days Go By” was coordinated with the Mitsubishi ad. Evidently, the band knew what Mitsubishi had done for The Wise Guys, so they, too, decided it is better to be smart than good.

It was once necessary for bands to convince record companies, promoters, and radio stations that their music was worthwhile. Now, apparently, there is another category that may be more important: Car manufacturers. As is the name of “The Mitsubishi Mix, Vol. 1″ (Warner Special Products, Warner Music Group, an AOL Time Warner Company) puts it: Are You In?

22 thoughts on “Start the Commotion”

  1. I am such a chump. I love all those commercials. Have car commercials taken the place of MTV, which no longer shows music videos? I wonder if the people who direct these car commercials have experience in the music video biz. One funny thing (to my credit perhaps?) is that I never remember what brand the ad is for; I just remember the cool song and the neat video.There have been a number of really cool ads that use great music. The “Pink Moon” ad still looks great and tells a great story. I love the fact that the party they go to looks like a GOOD party, not a lame party, but they still prefer to drive around listening to Nick Drake. I can dig that. But I’m not going to buy their car. Whatever car it was.It bugs me though to hear “Lust for Life” being used to sell cars. To me, that song BELONGS to the film, Trainspotting. And lets not even start talking about the Clash being used to sell Jaguars, ha ha. Oy vey.

  2. >I never remember what brand the ad is for; I just remember the cool song and the neat video. . . . And let’s not even start talking about the Clash being used to sell Jaguars. . . .Hmm. Seems that some car company’s commerical is working. Next thing you know, you’ll be rolling around in an S-Type and be asking yourself what rock stars dream of–well, that’s not quite right, because it is necessary to be in the back seat for that question to be pondered.(The real outrage is Iggy being used on a commerical for a cruise line. I guess he must need to fund his IRA or something–assuming that he owns the rights to that song.)

  3. What’s so bad about a band trying to get their music listened to? If your favorite band were being paid to name drop Honda in their songs, then I think you might have a legitimate gripe. But an Ad-exec passing up the next Bob Seger “classic” for a Nick Drake tune? Just be glad to hear something decent on those 30 second mind fucks between trying to figure out whether rachel and ross are ever going to get back together. Be glad that somebody’s using such a large medium to put half way decent music on… whether it be to help sell there product or not. Or are you scared that your monopoly on your favorite “underground indie band” might be broken and you won’t be as cool anymore?Just because we consider a song or band good, it doesn’t take anything a way from them if they become well known. Unless they’re Jimmy Eat World.. then that’s just wrong.

  4. The thing about cars and music, is that they go together so well. A road trip isn’t complete without your favourite tunes blasting on the stereo. Not to defend the whole commercialization of our favourite rockers though…

  5. Nick Drake, Jay Farrar, Dirty Vegas, Dandy Warhols….it’s pretty sad that our auto commercials are more “cutting-edge” than MTV and most radio stations.

  6. i’ve wanted to rally against the cross marketing of music and auto (cruise ships, clothes, tissue paper, cleaning agents, et al.) for a while, though the truth of the matter is that i’ve become to accept and enjoy it all. what was once possibly considered cheeky and irreverent has become common place… a catchy tune and a throw away product. commercials are just 30 second pop radio tidbits nowadays. the message doesn’t hit you over the head like some of the commercials did when i was younger inviting me to “come down to the lot and save! save! save!” or i’m not confronted with annoying mindless jingles backed up by casio keyboards, “have you driven a ford, lately?”. instead it’s just another throw away song that’ll last a cycle of 9 to 12 months in commercial rotation before the next agency dreams up some spot that speaks to the cultural expectations of it’s demographic market.and the commercial with the nick drake tune is cool. it’s for volkswagen (the cabriole line). and, yes, it did speak to me because i sit smack dab in the middle of vw’s demographic… aging gen-x’er with disposable cash and just nearly enough irreverence and taste in music to feel that i can find comfort in music, friends, and comfortable automobiles with endless roads ahead of me. there’s no pain in using music to sell a product. as it is, music is a product in and of itself. it’s our connection to the song that leads us to feel slighted in some way. remove that connection and it’s noise. embrace the connection and understnad that it’s great that the song gets exposure to so many more people and becomes a part of the memory of a cultural collective. just thing… one day some kid may be flipping through records or cd’s (or whatever format it is) and they’ll come across that nick drake/dirty vegas/iggy pop song and it’ll bring them back to a point in time of their life, not to the product it was hawking, and they’ll feel a sense of comfort. and that’s what’s great about the exposure that these commercials offer to the songs.

  7. Nothing happened to art for art’s sake, but not all pop music is art. Besides, these songs weren’t written for commercials, they were co-opted. Does that diminish the songs? Even our boy Nick Drake strived for commercial acceptance. He just got it 20 odd years after his death by way of the new radio: car commercials.

  8. Wait until the Dandy Warhols are selling Arbys or Nick Drake is used to peddle dishwashing detergent. I’ve already seen Devo used to move Target merchandise…

  9. Phil: In the case of Dirty Vegas, I have a hard time buying into the “coopted” notion, given the orchestration of what they did, to say nothing of the use of an Eclipse in their video, as well as the same type font as used in Mitsubishi ads.

  10. art for art’s sake is a fallacy.the only thing that i’ve come across that even passes for art recently has been the architecture of frank gehry. unless you’re talking about art garfunkel… than it’s truly art for art’s sake.once the idea leaves the person who originates it (whatever form… music, sculpture, literature, a kick ass snoopy sno-cone creation) it’s held for interpretation from the audience. if that audience is two kids listening to mp3’s on-line or a captured audience of one million gawking at the anna nicole smith show is irrelevant. the audience will always interpret art in how it effects them on a personal level. so, forget about the medium that brings you the music and focus merely on the music. remember, music is a product… doesn’t matter if it’s a commercial bringing it to you, or you hearing about it from the cool kid in school that’s two lockers away from you… it’s something you associate with… whether it’s the kid or the car.

  11. You know, I remember reading an article somewhere on how music is becoming more important in selling things like cars. What the article basically said is that the reason you see things like a Buzzcocks song in a Toyota commercial is because the people making these commercials are just twentysomething marketing directors that are using the music they listened to when they were younger. Now, there’s no excuse for giving the Barenaked Ladies commercial exposure (or permission to continue living for that matter), but I think thats all right. Its not always a bunch of stuffy old suits trying to “speak to the kids.” A lot of its just other music geeks that are just playing what they want to hear.

  12. Has anybody noticed the Clash being used in a lot of commercials lately? I saw a Jag commercial at 4am recently that was particularly disturbing. First, I’m surprised that they sold it. Second, have the former members of the band given up on every idea they used to believe in? Looks like they’ve got the way of Jello and decided to become yuppies themselves. I didn’t really care to much about Zeppelin or Dirty Vegas but this struck a nerve.

  13. the clash has been using their music for marketing for a good long while now. i remember that one of their songs reached the uk top ten in the early 90’s when it was used in a levi’s spot. a commercial is just another vehicle to bring attention to their music to a wider audience.

  14. Does anyone know the title of the song/group that is currently being advertised in the lastest Mitsubishi Montero (Limited) Promotion? The song mentions something like,” ….just breathe.”

  15. Nevermind, I already bought the cd, but the title of the artist is Télépopmusik, the song title is “Breathe,” just in case anyone else was wondering.

  16. Anyone know the name of the song in the new 2003 mitsubishi montero ad? the one where the two guys are watching the tv with the off-roading montero?

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