How does a genre that never adds anything new stay afloat? You’d think hearing the same set of songs would get boring, right? The classic rock radio format is an interesting beast in that regard. Although the era that defines classic rock is a moving target, for the most part radio stations within the format avoid songs more modern than, say, 1985. That time frame in and of itself is quite limiting, but of course there’s more to it. Commercial viability, profane or vulgar content, tempo and style – the pool of songs get even smaller as stations are forced to pick and choose. But classic rock has a funny habit of never saying die, and you can thank the genre’s knack for worming its way into pop culture for that.
Now, the use of music in commercial applications is nothing new. We’ve had classic rock songs in car commercials for years, like Cadillac’s use of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll” in a 2003 Super Bowl ad. Maybe it has something to do with familiarity or nostalgia, but companies are still on board. Motel 6 just used Golden Earring’s “Radar Love” for a TV ad, and Apple did the same with AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”. But there’s something about a real pop culture hit that propels classic rock back into the limelight – and probably boosts those all-important radio ratings as well.
A campaign going viral is a goldmine for advertisers. There’s nothing they want more than their product being talked about, and a viral ad can be a boon for radio, too. For example, take the Guitar Hero commercials that went viral in 2008. You may remember them: they were modern parodies of that infamous socked scene in the movie Risky Business, with various celebrities sliding into frame and jamming in their undies a la Tom Cruise. Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” was the soundtrack for that particular ad, and it’s no secret that music games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band seriously drive interest and sales in classic rock. Back in 2014, Aerosmith admitted they made more money from licensing their songs and images to Guitar Hero than any of their albums.
But in the past few years especially, there’s a single ad campaign that comes to mind as a bonafide pop culture phenomenon. Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy had an extremely popular trailer featuring Blue Swede’s “Hooked On A Feeling”, and suddenly it felt like that song was everywhere.
The movie was a box-office smash and the classic rock song in the trailer was gifted another commercial life. It even had crossover appeal, too: the Toronto Blue Jays used the song as part of their playoff hype in 2015 in a fantastic commercial celebrating the return to the postseason.
Marvel’s success with the first Guardians of the Galaxy led DC to follow in their footsteps shortly afterwards with their marketing for Suicide Squad. One of the trailers for Suicide Squad featured Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” in an attempt to bottle the same classic rock lightning Marvel had pulled off. The movie might not have been as good, but Suicide Squad’s Queen trailer accrued over 81 million views – safe to say, pop culture chalked up another win for the genre.
And of course, the trend continues. The Guardians of the Galaxy sequel was released a few weeks ago, and its trailer highlighted Sweet’s “Fox On the Run”. Speaking of trends, a quick Google Trends search shows just how helpful those popular trailers were to the songs they featured. The peak of each song’s online popularity coincided with the release of each movie trailer – not bad for representatives of a genre that is often accused of getting boring.
There’s plenty on the horizon, too. An art installation in Chicago recently made the news for wanting to obscure Trump Tower’s logo with giant flying pigs. The homage to the Battersea flying pig adorning Pink Floyd’s Animals cover art was approved by Rogers Waters himself, and you can imagine how many people will be asking questions if/when that project goes live. Even if the project isn’t okayed by Chicago, classic rock still managed to find a friend in pop culture once again through all the attention. Fresh instances like these maintain the relevance of the format, and keeps the tunes airing for another while longer – or at least, until the trailer for the next Guardians movie!