Advertising still Sucks
(Issue #13 - 2005-02-13)
Here's a little note I wrote to JCPenney today:
"I can't believe that you are trivializing the threat of nuclear war with your current ad campaign. Using the song "99 red balloons," which is a commentary on the horrors of nuclear war, hardly seems appropriate as the soundtrack to shopping for valentine's day. I find it deeply offensive that you would choose to make light of global nuclear holocaust."
Of course, I'm mostly just screwing with them, I'm not really that offended by the content of the song. I've grown generally accepting of the idea that ad agencies and the people who hire them are idiots. They use Iggy Pop's celebration of drugs and degeneracy as an ad for cruise lines, Creedence Clearwater's anti-vietnam anthem as a pitch for blue jeans, and now a song about nuclear war as a Valentine's day come on. I was 10 when 99 red balloons came out, and I certainly couldn't be called politically aware, but even I knew that the song was about nuclear war. There's an advertising team out there, probably run by someone at least my age, and they're so stupid they don't even know that 99 red balloons is a protest song. That's not offensive, it's just sad.
What is offensive though, is the use of songs of protest and rebellion as tools of capitalist conformity. Where was Carnival cruise lines when Iggy Pop was a marginal artist, rolling around in broken glass? Were they there, supporting his art? No, they (or their predecessors) were dumping raw sewage into the oceans the same as they do today. The point is, the corporate money is never there when the artist is on the front lines, making music about uncomfortable ideas.
Virtually every good rock song is based on rebellion and dissent. Love songs don't hold a candle, historically speaking, to the historical weight of great rock and roll songs that have little to say about love. So, when someone uses a great rock song to sell a product, they're likely to be un-ironically using non-conformity to sell conformity. This could be seen as nothing more as generally pathetic, but the influence it has is on the cultural state of society is too large to ignore it. Advertising using these songs instantly undermines their protest power. Are today's kids going to remember "99 red balloons" as a JCPenney song and nothing more? This process accelerates, and now I sometimes hear punky music and get the uneasy feeling that the song was written with an advertisement in mind. Once we had the Dils, now we have Ashlee Simpson and The Distillers. Ugh.
I think that artists should just give up on the idea of doing advertisements unless they really love the product they're pushing. Does Joe Strummer really care about Mitsubishi cars? I doubt it. (oh, and fuck you Mick Jones, we know you're the one who sold those songs). Do the Transplants really love Garnier hair care products? Ok, the transplants probably do think that shampoo is keeping it real.
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