Pink Floyd may not be the first band you think of when you think about a strong moral core. Though the group have never really been swayed into the debaucherous and chaotic lifestyle of traditional rock ‘n’ roll stereotypes, the group have also never really professed to be too high and mighty either. That said, Pink do have certain ethics they never wished to undermine, including being used for advertisement.
In 1974, Pink Floyd were nearing their creative peak when Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason were approached to be in a campaign for a French soft drink, ‘Gini’. Naturally, the band were against the idea of compromising their beliefs for a soft drink, they felt that musicians and artists should steer clear from commercial advertising and corporate sponsorship wherever they could. But they were soon swayed by this opportunity when they realised it could help out their fans.
Pink Floyd had just released the album The Dark Side of the Moon when they were scheduling their European tour. The band’s fanbase had grown to huge new lengths and the needed to capitalise on that with an equally large tour, one that grew more and more inescapable. However, there was one problem, ticket prices looked set to be some of the highest around. While we’d likely have snorted in derision at the comparatively tiny asking price, Pink Floyd were worried that they could be playing to half-empty auditoriums.
Gini, the company who approached the band, clearly saw their opportunity and jumped in with an offer the group surely couldn’t refuse. Pink Floyd would have to appear in a small campaign for the bitter lemon soft drink, a campaign which would be featured in a host of different publications, and Pink Floyd would receive both personal payments (which the members donated to charity) and sponsorship for the upcoming tour.
The band were won over and, as they saw an opportunity to reduce ticket prices across and therefore welcome a larger proportion of their fans, agreed to be a part of the campaign. The images included the members of the band looking particularly thirsty as they fly over super-imposed deserts from the seventies—an example of which you can see below. But while Pink Floyd clearly acted in the interests of their fans, things soured quite quickly.
At the time, such commercial involvement in rock music was virtually unheard of. While The Beatles capitalised on every piece of content they could produce, which included a least one album and a movie a year, Pink Floyd’s obvious connection to commercialism suddenly made their creative message feel a little bit paltry. It was a message not lost on the group’s de facto leader, Roger Waters.
The bassist and the band’s principal songwriter of the time wrote a track in reaction to the adverts called ‘Bitter Love’ (AKA ‘How Do You Feel’), which talks about him selling his soul in the desert. The song hasn’t been released but showed off that after this change in their morals, Pink Floyd were never keen to revisit the world of commercial advertising. That doesn’t mean they didn’t though.
In the years that followed, the band would be a part of just two more campaigns, one for Nurofen in which Richard Wright sanctioned a recording of ‘Great Gig in the Sky’ for the headache pain-relief tablets. The other arrived in 1993 when the band were a part of two promotional agreements to support The Division Bell tour, one with Labatt’s ICE Beer and Volkswagen.
As we look around at the bands and artists of today, it’s hard to imagine any single one of them turning down a big commercial contract. So while it may be easy to criticise Pink Floyd for their apparent ‘selling out’, the fact that the only time they compromised their beliefs was to make concert tickets cheaper for fans should speak volumes for a group who have always put the art before everything else.