Do you ever notice how some car commercial songs can really get stuck in your head? Sometimes an advertiser's combination of imagery and music is so effective it almost approaches art, and you forget for a moment that you are supposed to be thinking about buying a car.
Music and Target Demographic
This approach is an example of advertising at its best. Car companies use songs in their advertisements to brand their car to a particular demographic. A car manufacturer like Volkswagen, looking to attract young professional buyers, might choose a more obscure, hipper musical selection to accompany their ads in an effort to convey that their cars are more relevant and in the know than other brands. On the other hand, an American car manufacturer like Chevy might select a more straightforward song that reflects all-American values their target customer will relate to. A new trend started where music artists, responding to the rapidly changing music business, use car commercials as a medium to get their new songs into the mainstream. The use of songs in car commercials has a long history and is continually evolving.
Car Commercial Songs of Interest
The following is a list of some of the most memorable songs from car commercials. The links will take you to the car commercial or to Amazon.com where you can listen to the individual songs.
- Magic Carpet Ride by Steppenwolf - The 1999 Dodge Viper commercial tied Steppenwolf's lyrics to consumers who "like to dream" of owning a sports car. The commercial played like an action-packed chase scene from a movie clip, but this was one dream consumers could make come true with a new Viper.
- Pink Moon by Nick Drake - This sparse, melancholy acoustic number by obscure folk artist Nick Drake enhanced a Volkswagen Cabriolet advertisement in 2000. The wistful tone of the song, when combined with film footage of a tranquil, evening drive in the country, created a truly beautiful experience. The advertisement might not have sold a lot of Cabriolets, but it turned millions of people on to Nick Drake's music.
- Like a Rock by Bob Segar - This working class anthem was synonymous with Chevy trucks for over a decade. Not only was the song used in the commercial, but the commercial borrowed the song's title and used it as the slogan for the truck. The length of time these ads ran combined with how tightly the song and slogan were intertwined makes "Like a Rock" one of the most famous car commercial songs of all time.
- Our Country by John Mellencamp - Chevy used this all-American anthem by the Midwestern John Mellencamp in a 2007 Chevrolet Silverado advertisement. The tone of both the ad's images and the song itself evoked the "Like a Rock" ad campaign from the 90s, so much so that "Our Country" was considered to be Chevy's attempt at a 21st century version of that classic ad. Interestingly, the new advertisements were timed with the release of Mellencamp's 2007 album Freedom's Road. "Our Country" was the first single released off that record.
- Sky Blue Sky by Wilco - Wilco one-upped John Mellencamp by releasing numerous songs from their 2007 album Sky Blue Sky through a series of Volkswagen advertisements. Songs like "You Are My Face," "Sky Blue Sky," and "The Thanks I Get" all appeared on different commercials throughout the summer of 2007. This was the first time that a new album provided the soundtrack to an entire ad campaign.
- Do You Realize? by The Flaming Lips - The old label of sellout often accompanies the use of a song in a car commercial, and the ultra avant-garde Flaming Lips took a little flack for using their majestic song "Do You Realize?" in an ad for Land Rover. But in a world where Bob Dylan sells lingerie for Victoria Secret, many fans decided to give the Flaming Lips a pass on this one.
- Let Your Love Flow by Petra Haden - This TV commercial for the 2010 3rd generation Toyota Prius was a masterpiece that targeted the environmentally-conscious consumer. It promoted harmony between man and the planet with less smog while a white Prius drove along an animated street with a gray landscape transforming to greenery and flowers blooming in its wake. This song was made popular originally by the Bellamy Brothers.
- Black Betty by Ram Jam - Used in a 2011 Super Bowl commercial to introduce the newest Volkswagen Beetle, this song played in the background as a black beetle bug (not a car) raced along the forest floor, along a moss covered branch over a rushing stream, and past sleeker models like praying mantises. It spins to a stop and fades to an outline of the new Volkswagen bug.
As radio stations and MTV continue to slide toward irrelevance in the ever-evolving music business, it seems more and more likely that advertisers will use car commercial songs in unique and progressive ways. In the last few years, some of the most exciting acts in the world, like Silversun Pickups, Band of Horses, Citizen Cope, and The Polyphonic Spree contributed their music to car commercials. The times they sure are a' changing, but at least some commercials are becoming more pleasurable to watch.