Thursday, August 31, 2006

Corporate Advertising Breathes New Life into Classic Rock


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Whether it’s Led Zeppelin’s "Rock and Roll" playing to the baby boomer generation on behalf of General Motors or Mountain’s "Mississippi Queen" helping to set the tone for a steamy Budweiser commercial, corporations are turning to well known rock anthems to help push their ad campaigns.

Classic rock is nothing new to the advertising industry. The Beatles "Revolution" was one of the first examples of an instantly recognizable refrain featured in a major ad campaign for Nike. The success of that campaign seemed to open the floodgates for product manufacturers taking consumers on a well received trip down memory lane. Apparently, everything old is new again.
So, why the sudden interest in tracks that are well past their prime? In all likelihood, a combination of factors contributes to the tenable use of songs that have been part of our musical landscape for decades. Certainly the generational appeal to those who experienced their golden years during the 60’s and 70’s can’t be overlooked, but other considerations are equally plausible.

The once mighty classic rock radio format has become less and less popular in recent years as younger listeners lean understandably toward a more modern play list. The result of this shift can be seen in a generation almost completely unfamiliar with classic rock stalwarts that older generations are often overly familiar with. Advertisers are keenly aware that the standards of the era can not only induce nostalgia in older demographics, but also invoke curiosity from younger demographics as well. Interest in the music used for a commercial, no matter who it comes from, can easily lead to interest in the products being advertised.

In some cases, the song itself serves a greater purpose than to merely supply background noise for product visuals. A recent ad for Volkswagen featured a parked car with a young driver miming robotically to the infamous Styx tune "Mr. Roboto". Only when the door to the car is opened do viewers hear the campy strains of the million selling single. The ability to enjoy this guiltiest of pleasures without others being aware is meant to extol the virtues of Volkswagen’s engineering excellence that results in a quiet ride. While the purpose of using that particular song may have been lost on many, the inclusion of it made for a popular ad.

Whether or not the trend toward classic rock in advertising will continue is anyone’s guess. While there are almost an unlimited number of potential hits to choose from, licensing considerations keep many of the most popular offerings off the table. Considering that advertisements may be the only way that younger generations might gain exposure to arguably some of the greatest music of the past century, using classic rock songs for marketing seems less like a sell out and more like an opportunity to introduce the music of the past to the consumers of the future.

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