I rarely watch television during the day. And I rarely watch a tv program I haven’t prerecorded. Which means I rarely watch a tv commercial, other than in fast-forward mode. But one recent afternoon I did all those things.
To fend off the boredom of leg stretches, I tuned into an episode of HGTV’s Tiny House Hunters. I enjoyed imagining myself living in one of those tidy little gems. Where would I put my piano?
The commercial interruptions were annoying, until an ad for Uncle Ben’s rice caught my eye and my ear. It featured the song “The Sign,” by Ace of Base (I opened up my eyes and saw the sign…):
That made me think of other old songs used in tv marketing campaigns. Usually the lyrics are tweaked. For example, The National Dairy Board’s “Cheese, Glorious Cheese,” a jingle based on “Food, Glorious Food,” from the 1960 British musical Oliver!
Occasionally, a song appears in its original form, like Carly Simon’s “Anticipation,” in a classic 1978 Heinz ketchup commercial:
Here are other vintage tunes that made their way into commercials:
- Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee” was heard in Nescafé ads during the 1950s.
- To advertise an early powdered creamer, a simple word substitution gave us “You’re the Pream (Cream) in My Coffee,” a take-off on a 1928 song from the team of DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson.
- A second 1928 DeSylva/Brown/Henderson effort, “Button Up Your Overcoat,” appeared in a late 1960s commercial for Contac cold medicine.
- For decades, Oldsmobile sold its cars to the tune of “In My Merry Oldsmobile,” a waltz from 1905.
- “Call Me,“ a song made popular by Petula Clark, was perfect for Bell Telephone ads in the 1970s.
- Northeast Airlines featured “Yellow Bird,” a West Indian folk song recorded by Harry Belafonte, in its pre-1972 tv ads. After that, Northeast’s yellow-and-white planes disappeared from the sky when the company merged into Delta.
- Food businesses have had a lot of success with old songs in their tv ads: “Try a Little Tenderness” for Perdue Chicken, “Make (Bake) Someone Happy” for Pillsbury, “It’s So Nice to Have a Man (Cake) Around the House” for Betty Crocker, “Give Me the Simple (Campbell) Life” for Campbell soups. Wesson Oil made up the marketing word “Wessonality,” a play on the 1945 song “Personality.”
- “My Romance,” a 1945 Rodgers and Hart song from the musical Jumbo, was used to sell a Ralph Lauren fragrance called “Romance.”
- The National Safety Council co-opted “Buckle Down, Winsocki” (1941) for its “Buckle Up for Safety” ads in the 1960s, before seat belts were mandatory.
And finally, finding inspiration in a couple of fun Beach Boys tunes, advertisers came up with catchy ways to promote Sunkist orange drink and Hondas. Separately, of course:
Copyright © 2016 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
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