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What Went Wrong With… Cover Songs In Television Advertising & John Lewis Christmas Ads?

An image of a television displaying the text "Always Judge An Ad By Its Cover"Nobody watches TV adverts any more. Thanks to DVR’s, we can all skip past any crappy ad, and in today’s world that means all television advertising. Aware of this fact, the Ad Execs now want you to see all the necessary information as you’re forwarding past, so they clutter the screen with text or they add elements other than the product itself as bait from all the habitual fast-forwarding. Most television ads therefore, fall into either “all information” or “no information” categories. So we either have offers and fine print plastered across the screen or we have the incorporation of celebrities or songs. Gone is the idea of a strong concept, there are no more clever ideas; today we either have some moron barking specifications or deals at us, we have ads featuring sellout celebrities, or we have wannabe artistic, wannabe music videos encouraging the viewer to Shazam the track or watch the full “film” online.

Contemporary advertising agencies seem to be filled with talentless hacks who couldn’t direct their own stream of piss, let alone a TV advert. So while ex-advertising stalwarts from the seventies and eighties such as Ridley Scott are busy making historically prejudice movies, the quality of TV ads have suffered without their visual talent. The new breed of advertisers seem to have noticed this offshoot to the “big-time”, and have proceeded to create hollow crap with the intention of breaking into mainstream film themselves. After all, cocks such as John Moore are now making huge amounts of money from trashy movies thanks to one “popular” TV ad. No effort therefore is put into the creation of television adverts, nobody bothers creating anything memorable because this isn’t the sector most of them want to be in – they’d all rather be rich “Filmmakers”.

Alongside the advertising “talent” drain, we have also had the rise of the cover song. Ever since that dicking duo from “Donnie Darko” (Gary Jules and Michael Andrews) ruined the Tears For Fears track “Mad World” in the early noughties, lame singers have rushed to cover Pop songs and then licence their shitty versions for a quick buck. The original songwriters and singers don’t mind these dreary covers, because in this apocalypse of music where songs have been cheapened, and both charts and radio are corrupt, the broadcast of cover songs is one of the few times they receive any royalties. Unfortunately for us, since the mid-to-late noughties the coupling of a shit song with a shite idea has resulted in copious amounts of TV ads which feature acoustic, lacklustre, miserably sang, same-same cover songs.

The trend for the cover-song ad began to take hold in the late noughties, when Lowe London destroyed The Beatles song “From Me To You” for their 2008 John Lewis Advert. Once this ad became a success, in 2009 the Agency Adam+Eve and shitty band Taken By Trees ruined “Sweet Child O Mine” by Guns N’ Roses for the next John Lewis campaign. From then on the cover-song ad has snowballed into an uncontrollable and unimaginative cluster of crap.

Not being a fan of Elton John or The Smiths, when Adam+Eve added Ellie Goulding’s cover of “Your Song” in their 2010 campaign for John Lewis, and then followed this by a cover of “Please, Please, Please” by The Smiths in 2011, I didn’t really care. But when in 2012, Gabrielle Alpin completely obliterated the Frankie Goes To Hollywood song “The Power Of Love”, this unstoppable faux festive advertisement began to get repetitive and hugely annoying.

Then in 2013 we had Lily Allen’s version of “Somewhere Only We Know”, but despite the cover-song concept coming full circle and almost devouring itself (for the first time they used a shit cover of a shit singer’s shit song by an even shittier singer) people seemed to be in a daze, and they weirdly accepted and praised the £7,000,000 animated ad (which now seems to have disappeared from John Lewis’ YouTube page).

In 2014 we had Tom Odell fucking up “Real Love” by John Lennon, and once again the public who seem to be in some kind of merry stupor this time of year, still thought this kind of tripe was somehow emotional and meaningful.

Then in 2015 we had the weird “Man On The Moon” advert featuring Aurora’s ruination of Oasis’ “Half The World Away”. This particular ad at least gained some criticism, with some people calling the “moon-paedo” storyline strange and depressing.

Along with Simon Cowell‘s X Factor finalist hijacking the Christmas No. 1 almost every year, a seasonal and obligatory John Lewis ad now makes for one hell of a dull and predictable Christmas.

So has anything changed in 2016? No, this year we have “Buster The Boxer” courtesy of adam&eveDDB, another big budget (but who can tell?) ad featuring yet another cover song. With The Vaults covering Randy Crawford’s “One Day I’ll Fly Away” in a completely unoriginal way, this is another contrived Christmas offering from the so-called “creative communications agency” whose only new addition seems to be a black family. I guess it only took 8 years for John Lewis to realise there’s people of colour who also celebrate Christmas and buy gifts from their department store!

Because of the success of these annual arsefests, we now have numerous unremarkable ads featuring tacky vocals wrecking the memory of once great (and some not so great) songs. Thanks largely to the John Lewis juggernaut, today almost 80% of TV Ads now feature some kind of music, and while I’m making up statistics – I’d say 50% of those are now cover songs.

Even rival companies like House Of Fraser have started to get in on the act. Here we have their bright-arsed Christmas catastrophe featuring a shitty “reinterpreting” of The Delfonics’ song “Ready Or Not Here I Come” by Laura Mvula. This song is a thousand times worse than the Fugees’ version thanks largely to Mvula’s abrupt delivery, and this auditory jumble is accompanied by a visual mess – stage-school twats waking up an aged hipster and chucking glitter about… how festive.

Thanks to the success of the John Lewis Christmas campaigns, we now have many large corporations not caring about the relatively small sync fee they have to pay in order to use a song, and as long as a lame cover generates buzz for a lame product and vice versa, the money-hungry record labels and the profit-grabbing companies seem to have created a perfect way of generating sales at the expense of real art and credible music.

These days there is little diversity when it comes to ad content and when you watch any ad break, it’s plain to see that other companies are trying to follow this recipe for success by creating their own unoriginal cover song Ad. But this formulaic method of advertising has resulted in some horridly homogeneous adverts, and the quality of TV ads are now so poor; their concept and message so watered-down and mediocre, that it almost seems as though some unimaginative twat has typed the product their selling into iTunes or a search engine and found the cheapest song to licence. I bet most creative meetings these days go something like this…

Assistant: “This new Sony 4K TV is shiny and bright, right? Well how about using Rihanna’s “Diamonds”? She does say the lines “Shine Bright Like A Diamond”, surely that’ll do the job? And hey, while we’re pissing about with Sony’s huge budget, why not use the cover version by Joseph Salvat? That way, it won’t look like we typed ‘shiny bright song’ into Google, plus it’ll make the product look all sophisticated and relevant, won’t it Boss?”

Art Director: “Whatever, I’m off to play a spot of golf with Sony’s Head Of Marketing. He just wants the ad to look as pretentious as possible, because the upper-middle-class are the only people who can afford to buy an Ultra HD TV.”

Sometimes, only God knows why the elements of a particular ad are chosen. Check out the Chanel No.5 ad with a horrid cover version of a Grease track playing over what looks like a crap, drawn-out music video. So as some bearded twat stalks that lanky Victoria’s Secret dog Gisele Bündchen, and leaves her cards with quotes from a John Farrar song like some weird Musical-loving Serial Killer; we the audience are supposed to be impressed with a three minute twat-fest featuring a miserable, grumbling, up-himself lounge act? What the ad company in charge of this shite was thinking we’ll never know.

I’m sure many blinkered fools bought Chanel No.5 simply because it was Christmas and most people are suckers for posh-stinks this time of year. So while items such as the aforementioned Sony 4K TV and the Chanel fragrance sell in huge amounts (especially at John Lewis Department Stores) the advertisers will assume it was because of their amazing ads and their great choice of cover song accompaniment, not because Sony and Chanel are brands everybody recognises and therefore buys. I mean, Chanel could have filmed a catwalk model taking a shit and their perfume would have sold a few million units and Sony could have filmed some pricks blowing bubbles of spit in a graveyard and their Ultra HD TV would have sold in big numbers.

A popular product by a trusted brand will sell, an advertising agency will be praised, and the whole cycle will continue. Only when one of these cover-song ads fails miserably, will these so-called “Creatives” take any notice to their ruination of television advertising. Someone please put some fucking effort into making adverts – after all, the only reason we skip past TV ads these days is because they’re no longer worth watching. If ad agencies like to copy each other’s ads so much, maybe try copying something like Tango’s “Orange Man” advert, and maybe hire less John Moores and more Trevor Robinsons.

Ad Nauseam.

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4 replies »

  1. Excellent piece as always, I agree totally. The only memorable advert I enjoyed and it was later banned, because the public thought it was too shocking, I mean, people need to get a grip, surprise we all die.
    But this advert for XBox was one of the best LINK REMOVED: SEE VIDEO BELOW

  2. You forgot about product placement. It is fucking everywhere! So many companies are trying to cash in on a movie, especially a blockbuster. The Star Wars product placement was completely ridiculous. Yes, I get it! It has cost a lot of money to make, but come on it’s Star Wars. The whole world knows it. Millions of people around the world are fans of Star Wars. They will be going in masses to their local cinemas. It will obviously recoup any money spent on the making of the movie through the box office and DVD sales. Why all the tie-in? It is unnecessary! Toy adverts are okay, but fucking Subway? What has Subway got to do with Star Wars? Sandwiches are certainly not served in a galaxy far, far away, let alone one from Subway? But it is not shameless as the Covergirl Ad! “Discover the light or dark side through our collection”? What kind of bullshit is that? I thought the Spectre product placement was bad until I saw all the Star Wars adverts.

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