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THE MEDIA BUSINESS: ADVERTISING; Forget Jingles. Viewers Prefer Familiar Tunes in Commercials.


THE advertising industry may be playing your song -- in commercials, that is.

These days it seems you cannot turn on the television or radio without hearing a popular tune in commercials. And recording artists who once might have spurned ads as a sellout seem happy to license songs they originally released on records or CD's -- for a price, of course.

Just this year, more than 130 ad campaigns used songs originally released as records or CD's but now licensed temporarily for use in advertising, according to Source Maythenyi, an advertising information service in Boca Raton, Fla. Some examples include the Beatles' ''Come Together'' for Nortel Networks; the Who's ''Who Are You'' for Gateway computers and Dean Martin's ''That's Amore'' for Dodge Neon.

PepsiCo, Motorola and Apple Computer each used a Rolling Stones hit in the last year or so. And the electronica artist Fatboy Slim hit the mother lode in advertising this year: Kodak, MasterCard, Nike and Coca-Cola each used one of his songs for commercials.

''It's huge, and it really runs the gamut: opera, jazz, rock 'n' roll and a lot from unknown groups that play alternative music -- everyone's looking for the next new band,'' said Pamela Maythenyi, president of Source.

Madison Avenue has always borrowed popular songs -- called licensed music -- for commercials, but the large majority of ads relied on original music made especially for advertising. In the last decade, however, more songs have been licensed, and the pace has picked up considerably in the last two to three years, Ms. Maythenyi and others said.

One difference lately is that many songs being used are not mass-market hits. Indeed, many might not even ring a bell with the general public -- and that is one big reason they are used. Madison Avenue's newest idea is to discover innovative music that reaches a particular audience, usually young people.

Behind the use of all the kinds of music is the need to be noticed in today's fast-paced, multichannel media environment. A recognizable tune might be just enough to stop a remote control-happy TV viewer from zapping a commercial. Hit songs are the equivalent of brand names that the public recognizes and makes an emotional connection.

''Big music is one of the ways to stand out and instantly have an audience for whatever it is you have to say,'' said Chris Wall, an executive creative director at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, part of WPP Group, who said he used licensed music sparingly. ''It's like celebrities, there's common ground. Plus, music is very important to anyone who grew up after the 1950's.''

Music borrowed from the pop culture also creates an immediate image for a product. Music speaks a language that is both universal to a group and unique to each listener.

''It seems like ads in general are less product-focused and have become much more about selling a lifestyle or an attitude,'' explained Ben Davis, a music producer at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York, part of Saatchi & Saatchi P.L.C. ''And a big part of lifestyle or attitude depends on what music you listen to. So licensed music has become a good way to convey that.''

The move to less widely known music reflects the rise of niche brands, niche media and niche marketing. An advertiser doesn't need an expensive mass hit when a more obscure, semipop song might be the track that reaches its niche youth market.

Volkswagen of America introduced the New Beetle last year with an entire campaign of songs by bands that were virtually unknown to the mass audience. Created by Arnold Advertising in Boston, a unit of Arnold Communications, the campaign featured songs from bands like the Orb, Spiritualized and Fluke, all designed to resonate with people 18 to 34. Volkswagen has received hundreds of requests about the music, so much that the company's Web site, www.vw.com, now prominently lists the names of the songs and the bands for each of its commercials.

''We don't want to be too commercial or predictable,'' said Liz Vanzura, director of marketing for Volkswagen of America in Auburn Hills, Mich. ''We pride ourselves on being different. You're not going to see us use the latest Madonna CD. we're looking for the more obscure.''

Indeed, Fatboy Slim's success in advertising is said to have actually predated his current big success in the music community. Saatchi & Saatchi licensed Fatboy Slim's ''Rockafeller Skank'' for a spot earlier this year for Kodak Max film because of his niche appeal.

''It was music that our target market would recognize, but it wasn't something you were going to find at the top of the charts,'' said Eric Korte, music director at Saatchi & Saatchi in New York. ''In some ways that makes it more interesting to the teens. It's just the fact that you're buying into the equity of a piece of music that teens are going to think is cool.''

Ad agencies increasingly want to use music that sounds pure and does not sound like advertising. The old American jingle -- once a mainstay of advertising -- is largely reviled by the public as ''everything that's wrong, dishonest and insincere'' about advertising, Mr. Wall said.

For Volkswagen, using new music has also given the company added cachet as a patron of emerging music. And the recording artists, for the most part, were delighted to be in the commercials, for the exposure as much as the money, said Lance Jensen, executive vice president and creative director for Volkswagen at Arnold. The agency is now even courted by artists who send tapes hoping to be in an upcoming commercial.

''They are completely interested and don't view it as a sellout, they view it as working in a medium of their time, and our time right now is a commercial time, a video is a commercial, only its for the band,'' said Mr. Jensen. ''A lot of this music is such an amazing opportunity for these songs to be heard.''

How much have times changed? A few years ago, Volkswagen set a commercial to a somewhat obscure 1980's song called ''Da, Da, Da'' about two guys in a car who pick up a smelly old sofa chair. The band Trio re-released the CD after the commercial, and featured a sticker that said ''as heard in the commercial,'' Mr. Jensen said.

Of course, not all artists like the idea of licensing music for commercials. R.E.M. did not care for the remake of its song ''I am Superman'' in a spot for Lotus, Mr. Wall said. Ogilvy & Mather, which made the commercial, bought the rights to the song from the original group that recorded it in the 1960's.

''Some new bands and writers see it as a new avenue and acceptable avenue to get music out to a lot of people,'' said Todd Brabek, executive vice president of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. ''Others feel totally contrary to that and are very averse to their music being used in a marketing context to sell product.''

Licensing songs for commercials is a big revenue source for music publishers and for estates of deceased artists, said Irv Lichtman, deputy editor of Billboard Magazine. Among the tunes heard in recent years by late artists are Louis Armstrong's ''What A Wonderful World'' and Nat King Cole's ''L-O-V-E.''

''With diminishing income from traditional sources, the estates are facing reality and of course, ad dollars can be significant,'' Mr. Lichtman said.

The fee to use a hit song in a commercial starts at about $150,000, according to Mr. Korte. To use the actual recording might cost another $150,000, he added. The fees usually cover use for one year and are renegotiated for long-running campaigns, Mr. Lichtman said.

''It's way more expensive to license a hit song, maybe 10 times more than it costs to make original music,'' Mr. Korte said. ''And it's much more than that when you're talking about something like Beatles songs.''

Despite the trend right now, original music in advertising certainly isn't dead. Volkswagen is distributing its own CD of a much-requested song called ''Jung at Heart,'' by Master Cylinder, that it commissioned as an original work for a new Jetta commercial. And the Ford Motor Company commissioned the original song, ''Just Wave Hello,'' for its new millennium advertising featuring the young Welsh soprano Charlotte Church. The song will be released as the first track on Ms. Church's upcoming CD this month.

But it's the rare advertising sound that gets released as its own soundtrack. And in the end, that may be why the advertising community likes prerecorded hits.

''Every client with a jingle would only pray that it would become a CD,'' Ms. Maythenyi said.

 

By PATRICIA WINTERS LAURO, November 8, 1999, The New York Times

Copyright © 1999, The New York Times Co.. All rights reserved.