Credit: Aleks Dorohovich

From David Bowie to The Rolling Stones: 9 musicians that sold out for bad adverts

The art of advertising is quite possibly one of the most thriving art forms in all of the Western world. A bastion of commercialisation, the great ‘endorsement’ can often make up a large chunk of how bands and singers make their money. That doesn’t stop us as fans recoiling in horror at the appearance of your favourite song or worse, the singer or the band themselves. 

That’s not to say that a lot of adverts haven’t made us smile or smirk. There are lots of celebrity commercials which have landed without too much reproach take, for example, Jack White on the recent Coca-Cola advert or, indeed, Tegan & Sara’s saccharine moment on a modern Oreo advert. However, some make us feel a little bit dirty. So, to share the love, we thought we’d bring you nine musicians who sold out for simply terrible adverts.  

The exchange of artistic credibility for a big fat paycheque is one that we’re happy to witness so long as it brings with it some shareable moments of laughter, recoil or a little bit of both.

Expect to see the likes of Tom Jones, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and more. Below, find nine of the best. 

9 musicians who sold out for bad adverts: 

Tom Jones for Coca-Cola  

During the sixties, there was nobody more ‘on the ball’ in the advertising world than Bill Backer. Backer had figured out that jingles weren’t lyrically joined to the idea of selling the product and, actually, they could simply allude to a good time and people would make the association for themselves. There’s perhaps no better way to see that than on this classic Tom Jones commercial for Coca-Cola.  

The slogan “Things go better with Coca-Cola” is given some extra pizazz by smooth tones of Tom Jones who, at this period in time, was one of the entertainment world’s greatest showmen. His track ‘It’s Not Unusual’ was a smash hit and it found a natural home in the bubbling heartbeat of corporate America.  

Splashed with some coke-centric lyrics and the song becomes a difficult listen artistically but enjoyable as a cringe-fest nevertheless. 

The Rolling Stones for Rice Krispies  

We’ve all become accustomed to the colourful and chipper adverts which accompany brands like Kellogg’s. They are normally archetypal moments of family fun and frolics, all bound together by a mutual adoration for breakfast goods. In this 1964 advert, however, the archetype is thrown out of the window in favour of the burgeoning talent of The Rolling Stones.

The band recorded the jingle shortly after their formation and its lyrics are credited to founding member Brian Jones who wrote the track. Maybe not necessarily up there with his best, the song still swings and swirls as any great Stones song does.

It was recorded a year prior to the ad being released and features some incredible lyrics like: “Wake up in the morning there’s a snap around the place / Wake up in the morning there’s a crackle in your face / Wake up in the morning there’s a pop that really says ‘Rice Krispies for you and you and you’ / Pour on the milk and listen to the snap that says ‘It’s nice’,”—the kind of lyrics that in 1964 would have likely caused a stir.

Pink Floyd for Dole bananas 

The band, who famously refused to allow their creations to be used for commercials unless it was for a good cause, encountered a somewhat experimental period of Pink Floyd’s existence in the mid-70s. In 1974, Pink Floyd were approaching their creative peak when Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason were afforded more opportunities to monetise their work—but all were not in agreement.

Pink Floyd were approached by the Dole Food Company, the American organisation who have now established themselves as the largest producer of fruit and vegetables in the world. The company, planning a major campaign around their bananas, wanted to use the band’s 1973 track ‘The Great Gig in the Sky’ for a particularly racy approach at selling the fruit. 

While Pink Floyd only ever allowed their music to be used in a commercial four times in total, ‘Great Gig in the Sky?’ took up half of those situations. “Rick wrote that music,” member of the band David Gilmour once said. “He remade it for them. It’s down to the writer. If my name had been on that track too it wouldn’t have happened,” he said of the advertising use. “I wouldn’t do it. But that’s Rick’s business. I didn’t approve of it, but I have no control over it.”

Ray Charles & Aretha Franklin for Coca-Cola   

It’s that big red machine again—Coca-Cola are back once more to ruin another classic artist and this time they’re even making it a double. Aretha Franklin and Ray Charles were another set of victims. But wait, there’s even a sneaky third member as Neil Diamond contributed the song for this advert. 

It’s easy to see the vision of ad executives licking their lips when this one was released as it’s not only smooth like butter but also has the two icons of soul at the helm. In fact, the song is so well-performed that we’d almost be keen to hear an entire album of it. 

David Bowie & Tina Turner for Pepsi  

David Bowie has thrown himself into a few commercials during his long career. Never an artist to shy away from the value of a commercial career (it can often support your most adventurous stylistic moments) there’s one commercial for Pepsi that completes the cringeworthy checklist.  

Firstly, it destroys one of Bowie’s most adored songs, ‘Modern Love’. Secondly, it brings down another icon in Tina Turner along with it and finally, it sees Bowie not only star in the advert but in a terrible one at that—soft drinks companies really have a lot to answer for. 

The eighties weren’t an incredibly fruitful period for Bowie and he struggled to align his penchant for popularity with his dislike for populist art. It means for every album like Scary Monsters we have a Weird Science style Pepsi ad to balance it out.

Iggy Pop for Swift Cover 

Some adverts featuring your favourite stars hurt more than others and when they complete an entire campaign, it’s even worse. That can certainly be said for Iggy Pop and his long-running campaign for Swift Cover insurance company. It saw, among many other things, Iggy represented as a sinewy leather-clad puppet trying to sell you insurance from the front seat of a ludicrously large convertible.  

It’s not exactly what you think of when reminiscing about the punk rock forefather smearing himself with blood, faeces and peanut butter at his shows. Instead, the new generation’s first introduction to Iggy was through a series of poorly-crafted commercials.  

Johnny Rotten for Country Life Butter 

Far removed from the anti-establishment persona that had seen him become an icon, in 2008 the singer was the face of a £5million TV campaign for Country Life Butter. “People know I only do things that I want to or that I believe in and I have to do it my way,” said Lydon on deciding to appear in the TV ad.

“I’ve never done anything like this before and never thought I would, but this Country Life ad was made for me and I couldn’t resist the opportunity.” While we’re sure the opportunity was tantalising, who wouldn’t want a lead role in a butter advert, am I right?

But we think this time it may have been the chequebook rather than the script which tempted Lydon.

Lou Reed for Honda  

For Lou Reed, his major foray into commercials was for Honda and their new range of sleek and city-centric scooters. It’s a piece of vintage video which we could watch over and over again. It’s about as eighties as a perm-laden Weird Al Yankovic eating a microwave hot dog while Paula Abdul gently blows dry ice around him—and, naturally, we love it. 

Featuring Reed’s classic song ‘Walk on the Wild Side’, arguably his greatest creation, the advert captures a series of scenes in New York City life, some friendly, others dangerous, all of them modern and delightfully varied. Interspersed with those images is Reed basking in the glow of poor lighting with aviators on and a perm before a saxophonist comes in with the song’s finest solo.

“Hey,” says Reed as he takes off his glasses and while sitting atop the new Honda scooter, which in itself is a bastion of eighties ruler-driven design. Reed’s celebrity endorsement continues as he completes the tagline, “don’t settle for walkin’.” As the camera pans and the credits roll, the vision of 1980s America is firmly completed.

If you’re disappointed, just remember “Some people think that’s a conflict of interest since I’m wearing a Harley shirt, but I keep telling them that was for fucking scooters,” Reed once told a crowd. “I gotta pay the rent, too, and can’t you take a fucking joke?” That’s the crux of it. Being an alt-pop God doesn’t necessarily pay the bills—especially in 1986.

Snoop Dogg for Just Eat  

In the new age of digital advertising, the power of the television is dead and the space for memorable content is at a premium. It means that if you’re going to enter the market you better do it in a big way. When Just Eat, a takeaway food delivery platform, approached Snoop Dogg for their latest advert they did just that. What’s more, they arrived with some lyrics that we imagine Snoop himself would have been proud of.  

Susan O’Brien, chief marketing officer at Just Eat, explained that the addition of Snoop was an attempt to “tap into a younger, more urban, cooler, independent demographic”, and it’s hard to ignore just how interminably catchy the advert really is, largely helped by Snoop’s delivery. 

Maybe it’s the use of the word “urban” or the hip-hop tropes they covered themselves in but no matter how much we know Snoop loves food (he has his own cookbook), we can’t abide the state of this advert despite how much it makes us hungry.

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