Pop Music = Advertising. The Issue of Creeping Product Placement.

Last weekend’s finale of Mad Men [SPOILER!] reminded us about the long relationship pop music has had with advertising. A jingle in a Coke 1971 commercial…

…turned into a genuine hit single for The New Seekers.

About two years later, Paul Simon shocked people by naming a song after an actual consumer product. In this case, it was a brand of film.

Despite a number of  radio stations that refused to play the song because of its commercialism (including an outright ban by the BBC and another in Australia), “Kodachrome” became a #1 hit in Canada and #2 hit in America.

Since then, brand names and advertising have slowly metastasized more and more into the pop music ecosystem. The situation is now inoperable. Check out this essay from Mic.com.

In the past 50 years, pop songs have gotten longer, louder and increasingly similar. But music is changing in a deeper way that most people likely haven’t realized. Brands and advertising are creeping in at all levels of the creative process: Your favorite songs and music videos are becoming advertisements.

Research out of the University of Colorado, Denver confirms the trend. Analyzing the top 30 songs on the Billboard charts every year from 1960 to 2013, researcher Storm Gloor found that more than half of the 1,544 brand mentions he identified in popular lyrics occurred between 2000 and 2010. As the general length of songs and number of words in them have increased, so too has the percentage of brand-associated words. In 2010, 1.8% of the words in lyrics could be considered branding. That might seem small, but it’s nearly double the percentage 25 years earlier. And in 2006, 2 out of every 3 songs in the study included at least one branding reference.

Behind closed doors, there’s a lot of money changing hands to get these mentions into our music. Every time you listen to a song that mentions a brand, there’s quite possibly a deal — or a hope for a future deal — engineering that appearance.

Keep reading.

Now let’s look at how corporations are the new record labels. This comes from Medium.com:

As the recording industry and its flagship major labels wither on the vine, a new hand has come to tend to independent music scenes. From rock to hip-hop, corporations such as Red Bull, Hyundai and Converse are supporting independent, often niche, artists by providing them with recording studios, bookings and promotion. Often seen as a continuation of the centuries-old practice of patronage, the involvement of corporate brands in music continues to be tainted with negative connotations of selling out. And yet, what could be more natural than the replacement of one capital-driven enterprise with another in support of the arts?

In 1996, the BBC broadcast an episode of its Modern Times documentary series about life in contemporary Britain that focused on the independent label Good Looking Records, which was founded in 1991 by Danny Williamson, the producer and DJ known as LTJ Bukem, and his business partner, Tony Fordham. At the time, Williamson and Good Looking were rising stars within drum & bass, an underground genre born in the early 90s from England’s infatuation with Chicago acid house and the hedonistic musical explosion known as rave that followed it.

You’ll want to read the rest of this one, too.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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