Songs that clash with the ads they're in.

Advertising deconstructed.
June 6 2005 7:21 AM

What's the Worst Ad Song Ever?

The results are in.

Last week, I asked you to send in your favorite examples of incongruous advertising soundtracks. (This was in response to GE's use of the mining folk song "Sixteen Tons"—in an ad that touts the wonders of coal.) Your response has been overwhelming.

The big winner, submitted by dozens and dozens of you, is Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, which used Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" in a series of spots. As my reader Andrei put it, "Nothing says maritime comfort like a song about shooting up junk." A sampling of other e-mails I got on this mismatch:

Seth Stevenson Seth Stevenson

Seth Stevenson is a frequent contributor to Slate. He is the author of Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World.


"Love the tune, but did the cruise folks actually think about the lyrics? 'Here comes Johnny Yen again/ With the liquor and drugs/ And a flesh machine/ He's gonna do another strip tease.' Somewhere between the drugs and the strip tease, it hits you: Yeah, this is way more than an ordinary vacation."

"I don't know what, exactly, Iggy means when he says that he's 'done it in the ear before,' but I'm sure Royal Caribbean won't allow it on their cruise ships."

A very close second was Wrangler's use of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" in an ad for jeans. Something about the patriotic vibe of the ads, mismatched with this fiercely defiant song, really got your hackles up:

"The ad plays the first line of the song ['Some folks are born made to wave the flag/ Ooh, they're red, white and blue'] against a backdrop of a waving American flag (and blue jeans on tight American asses). Then the words cut out, but the song continues on. The rest of the song is, of course, an anti-war, anti-government, anti-rich folk statement. The very next line is 'And when the band plays "Hail to the Chief"/ Ooh, they point the cannon at you.' Wrangler evidently just likes the guitars. I've never seen a commercial do a better job of ideologically castrating a song."

Third place, with yet another slew of responses, goes to Mercedes-Benz's use of Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz":

"I've always wondered about Janis Joplin's 'Mercedes Benz,' which I always interpreted as a song critical of capitalism and materialism through the tragedy of poor people asking God in despair for the ultimate upper class status symbol which somehow will erase the pain of poverty. When Daimler started using it to sell Benzes, I felt awful. I still do. Joplin did drive a Porsche (which makes the next lyric—'My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends'—a possible self-criticism). Then again, she probably vomited in it."

So there you have our medal winners. Other head-scratching song choices seem not to be confined to any particular product category—or any musical genre. As you'll see, they're all over the map. (And please note, I've tried to make sure you guys remembered all these ads—and song lyrics—correctly. Any remaining errors are entirely yours. But do let me know if you find any.) Below, the best of the rest:

"Kahlua and Pepsi both used the Rolling Stones' 'Brown Sugar' for an ad. They had to clip out pretty much the whole song—except for the words 'brown sugar'—because the song is about crazy-wild interracial sex with slaves. The song isn't borderline offensive, it's actually offensive (which isn't to say I don't love it), which is why the Stones' best business strategy is that people can't really understand Mick Jagger."


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